BELMONT, Mich. (May 4, 2014) — It’s been nearly 25 years since a couple who lives in West Michigan escaped to the United States from Romania.
Ion and Mioara Bugan, who now live in Belmont, are gaining national attention after the BBC created a documentary and an article in BBC News Magazine, on their family’s escape from the Soviet bloc in 1989.
Ion was arrested three times, twice in the ’60s and once in the ’80s, after protesting in Romania for human rights.
The couple now has more than 4,000 pages of surveillance records from being spied on by Romanian secret police. After coming to America and reading the documents, they learned their former neighbors had helped the police.
Ion and Mioara married in 1969. They moved into a home Draganesti, near Galati, in eastern Romania. They spoke to us about growing tired of living under the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Mioara and her husband worked at a grocery store, she said, but there was such a shortage of food, they didn’t have much to offer the people who lived in their village.
“We couldn’t handle [it] anymore, and that was when my husband said, ‘Well, I have to do something, not for our family, but for everybody,’”
The couple wrote anti-communist manifestos on an illegal typewriter. They distributed the letters in mailboxes all throughout the country. During that time, Mioara said, the secret police were monitoring their every move. “They wanted for the curtains to [not] be closed, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Mioara said. “They did have a key …they would come into the house anytime day or night.”
By 1983, Ion had had enough. He drove the streets of Bucharest with posters and slogans plastered to his car that demanded human rights. He then drove through the main city, tossing anti-government pamphlets, attracting as much attention as he could. He was quickly surrounded by police and arrested. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Ion spent countless days being tortured. Pictures show him chained to the wall, a punishment he endured for up to 45 days at a time.
In 1988, Ion was released as part of a general amnesty. The following year, he and his family then came to the United States.
Last year, the BBC followed the Bugons on a trip back to Romania and filmed the family as they visited old prison cells where Ion was held captive. Then, there was a special reunion. Ion, Mioara and their children all met with their former neighbors who had once helped Romanian secret police. “I forgive you all, and I love you,” Mioara said of her former neighbors.
Mioara said she thinks her neighbors were scared and had no choice but to help the police spy on her family all those years ago. She said, along with forgiving them, she hugged and kissed them.
Mioara is a retired nurse. Ion retired from his job as a custodian at Mayflower Congregational Church in 2005.
On Sunday, Ion celebrated his 79th birthday.