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A MEMOIRE OF SNEJANA

It is only recently that I learned of Snejana's passing. It is never easy to handle the loss of someone who has been part of one's life story. 

My earliest recollection goes some 30 years back, when SnejanaYaneva had just begun work for the US Embassy in Sofia and then moved on to lead the American Corner as a part of the US information service. Those were more or less fleeting encounters, whenever I would visit an Embassy event or function. By then, I already had a seasoned relationship with the Embassy of many years. Times had dramatically changed though and 'the wind of change' had brought about an overwhelming desire and huge opportunities to build an entirely new relationship with America. Both of us were working to that end in our own fields - Snejana as a librarian, and I as a diplomat and member of parliament. 

Little did I know at the time that a decade later we would be joining forces in accomplishing - from both ends - one of the most fascinating US-Bulgarian projects, which would have a defining impact on Bulgaria's librarian and cultural setting. 

People tend to keep mementos from memorable professional and personal experiences. I am no exception.

My many years as Bulgaria's ambassador to the United States naturally resulted in an exciting collection of commemorative items telling stories of events and people that have partaken in already a robust modern US-Bulgarian relationship.

A highlight in my collection are a couple of recognition plaques for outstanding contribution to the inception and implementation of the ABLE project on the upgrade and the modernization of libraries in Bulgaria after the most advanced American public library model, which further on grew to become the Global Libraries - Bulgaria Program. This huge undertaking was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with over 13 million dollars. To get there was not easy.

I was the first official Bulgarian representative to visit and begin talks with the Foundation headquartered in Seattle, and, many months later, sign the framework agreement opening the path to the implementation of the project. There were rigid requirements to be fulfilled to qualify for funding and expert support. An in-depth process of scrutiny and evaluation of thousands of libraries all over Bulgaria had to begin. 

A key person on the Bulgarian end was Sneja.  During that time, she made a few trips to the US to discuss and finalize project details. We would then meet to compare notes on the work in progress and what needed to be done next In the US and in Bulgaria.

Those were meetings of like-minded and success-committed people. 

It was an overwhelming and protracted effort. Even the smallest libraries in remotest parts of the country were given the chance to compete for approval. All of them needed guidance and knowhow. Sneja was always there for them. 

The effort also cultivated an outstanding mutual engagement and cooperation between the Bulgarian and the American Librarians' Associations. Colleagues from both countries bonded in a way politicians can only dream about. And againSneja was the good fairy behind it.

"I will never forget the stubborn insistence of the American librarians working on the project to struggle with the hard pronunciation of the Bulgarian word "chitalishte" using it in place of "library'". They claimed it said a lot more than their own word. And it does indeed ...

As a final result, almost 1 000 public libraries in villages and towns all over Bulgaria were computerized and taken up to a state-of-the art level, while over 3 000 librarians underwent individual training.

I am again taking a fond look at my two plaques. The acronyms of the bestowing institutions have faces and names behind.

And Snejana Ianeva's name and smiling, soft and personable face loom high among them.

ELENA POPTODOROVA

Vice President of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria

Ambassador to the US (2002 - 2008; 2010-2016)

Member of Parliament (1990 - 2001)