A writer retraces her childhood through Romania's secret police records on her family

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". When Carmen Bugan fled communist Romania with her family back in the 1980s she never thought she'd return. It was still the Cold War and her father was an outspoken dissident. But this past October, she did return and she recorded the experience for the BBC. Here's her story. [Clip plays] Carmen Bugan: My family and I left twenty-five years ago when our country was still in the grip of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. My father, Ion Bugan, staged a one-man protest against Ceaușescu at a time when few dared to speak out. His decision changed our lives forever. [Clip ends] Werman: So, Carmen, Nicolae Ceaușescu was a ruthless dictator. Describe that day when your father staged that protest and what he did and what happened to him. Bugan: My father left on 10th March 1983 without telling anyone Bucharest to stand up against Ceaușescu, and he placed the two placards on top of our red [??] asking for the trial of Ceaușescu and his family for crimes against humanity and usury and economic downfall. And he was arrested immediately. Werman: He was already a dissident, but had he ever staged any protest as overt as this? Bugan: From 1981 until 1983, he and my mother typed anti-communist leaflet at an illegally-owned typewriter and they spread them secretly all over the country. Werman: Wow. Bugan: So they were very courageous, the two of them. They had to bury the typewriter in the backyard. Werman: Yeah, explain that because I mean typewriters were obviously instruments of contraband if they were in the wrong hands, right? Bugan: Yeah, so I've written the book "Burying the Typewriter" which is focused on me finding my father one day as I was returning from school burying the typewriter in the backyard and I asked him why he was burying it. I was very shocked to see him burying our typewriter because I used it to write little poems and attempt to play and he didn't say why, but he said, "They have to be registered. So they keep coming to check it, so I don't want them to see it anymore." And then I went inside the house and the typewriter was sitting on a table and that's when I realized that there were two and one was illegally-owned. Werman: Now, your father ended up going to jail, but the guilt that was laid on your father then falls on you and your family by association. What was going on in your life while your father was serving time? Bugan: The day my father demonstrated, the secret police came into the house and interrogated me about him and what he did without actually telling me . . . Werman: And you were twelve, right? Bugan: Yes, I was twelve years old. They didn't tell me what he did, but they tried to get me to tell them what I knew. Werman: What was that like for you? I mean you're twelve years old. You don't want to implicate your father. You also are driven to tell the truth because you're a kid, right? Bugan: Yes, I mean that was a very difficult moment because he and I had a fight before he left. I knew what he was going to do because I saw him tying the placards on a car and I said, "I know what you're doing. I'm going to put nails in the car tires so they blow up and then you won't go." He yelled at me that day. He said, "You go away and mind your own school and leave me alone," and then when he left in the middle of the night he said, "If anybody comes you tell them nothing." And then my mom was in the hospital with my brother who was a month old and he was very ill and he really did not tell her anything at all. It was a way to protect her. She went straight under interrogations which were twenty-four hours a day. Werman: A whole lot of intel-gathering going on, some serious paranoia. And you also had in your home, while your father was in prison, secret police microphones bugging all of you. Bugan: Yes. Werman: Have you gone back to read what was transcribed from what was going on in your own apartment? Bugan: Yes, there are about four thousand five hundred pages and I spend the last three years researching them and reading them. And so we have everything from our dreams that we recounted to each other in the morning, from the food that we ate, every phone conversation, from the fights we had, and the secret police got to know us so well, they took part in the fights. You would see on a side of their papers parenthesis saying "Actually Carmen is right in this fight." Werman: This is a big part of the documentary you actually made with the BBC. I'd like to listen to another short excerpt from that. [Clip plays] Bugan: We were just ordinary people. You won't find our names in the story of the Cold War. But there is a hidden chronicle of our lives. My apartment is [??] with our hidden history. Papers, photographs, transcripts of secret recordings - they are fragments from the thousands of files kept on us by Ceaușescu's secret police. [Clip ends] Werman: Carmen, what was it like going back and reading things that you once presumably said quite often in a very careful choice of words, plus your dreams as well? Bugan: You know, I've written a book based on my memory. "Burying the Typewriter" is based on a child's memory. Reading the files has been vindicating those memories that I wrote about. I'm able now to say, "Look, what I was telling you about is completely true and I remember it." There is also stuff that we didn't remember. There is also stuff which is very painful to read about. Werman: Like what? Bugan: Well, one of them is, I didn't actually even tell my father about this, and I'm not sure if this is true or not, but it's in the files. One morning I woke up and I told my grandmother that I dreamed that I shot my father, I was so angry with him. And there is a transcript, a beautiful transcript in which she is trying to console me and to say, "Look, you're not evil. Don't feel guilty about this. Your father should have thought about the consequences." Look I look back on that file and I don't actually remember the dream, but it is there as an archival document, a historical document, that someone can say, "Well, look, it actually happened because it's written down by the secret police." I don't remember, but I think about the implications. I wonder the effect that would have on him, to say, "Look, I dreamed about this." Werman: Yeah. Bugan: You see, it's all this exposure that goes on and on and on, fights that we had in the house, things that you say that you hope you'd never remember you said. Werman: Is any of this helping you and your father kind of, have you been able to talk about this with him? Bugan: Well, this trip was extraordinary for the fact that we were able to talk about it. Werman: And you say "this trip". We should let our listeners know that last October your family went back to Romania. It was the first time in decades. Personally for you with the trip back to Romania, do you feel like you've completed this circuit so that you feel that you're no longer defined by being an enemy or defined by what the Securitate kind of documented on what you said? Bugan: No, I think the trip opened more ground. We made peace with our situation in Romania and why we left and with the people there. But then at the same we realized that because of that situation we have lost the country. We have been immigrants. We have been people without a home for twenty-five years. Werman: Writer Carmen Bugan. She's the author of the memoir "Burying the Typewriter" about her family's experience living under Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania. She's currently writing a memoir about returning to Romania and reading her family's Securitate files. Carmen, thanks very much. Bugan: Thank you.