What is it like to be under secret police surveillance? On 10 March 1983, 12 year old Carmen Bugan returned from school to find Romanian secret police in her living room. Her father’s protest against the regime had changed her life for ever.
In recent years Carmen gained access to the files of the Romanian secret police. She herself is surprised by the intimacy of the surveillance. Forgotten conversations, love letters, arguments are all laid bare via the detailed notes taken by the Securitate. We hear the sadness of discovering friends and family members were involved in informing on them too.
Carmen and I discuss the “language of oppression” , the subtle and not so subtle methods used to try and ensure a compliant population but still thwarted by humanity even in the darkest recesses of the Romanian prison system.
It’s a warning from history and the meaning of freedom in current times.
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I am delighted to welcome back Carmen Bugan to our Cold War conversation…
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A poem about the experience of reading the files which comes from Carmen’s collection of poems Releasing the Porcelain Birds.
Transcribed from the Romanian language
Strictly Secret POST: 13 I.D.E.R. Ex. Unique
No. Files 1 Date: 23.02.1988
No: 0026124 INDICATIVE 1./
At hour 22.00 the objective listens to the news transmitted by the post ‘Radio Free Europe’. His wife is busy knitting. At hour 22:25 the objective attempts to put Catalin to bed, by telling him a story with something imaginary, the action taking place in the West, with a life of plenty and without worries, a country with lemon and orange trees..
Wife: . . . It’s good also here with apples, and pears and prunes. . .
Obj.: … I have been reading the magazine The World and saw that ‘there’ in the developed countries the food
problem is something entirely banal, everything is easily available
. . . So where is it better? There where you can find a piece of good cheese or here with a piece of hard black bread?
Wife: Also here is good!… 24.02.88
The boy was five years old and he trusted his father’s stories about a life of plenty,
a country with lemon and orange trees.
‘It is something imagined,’ the records say.
‘Apples and pears and prunes are also good,’ the mother countered (for the microphones?)
no doubt, tired of the hard black bread the husband-prisoner brought to her.
But he went on imagining the blooms of orange groves, endless summer trips
we were to take if not for real, then in his stories with the action
taking place in the West, itself a forbidden word
those days when we secretly cherished his unstoppable rambling dream.
I sat in silence weighting apples, pears and plums against mesmerizing gallops across distant prairies.