Picture of Lorrae and Abena

In the Field with Albena Simeonova

May 4, 2020

In the second installment of a two-part guest blog, Deputy Director of the Goldman Environmental Prize Lorrae Rominger writes about her trip to Eastern Europe in November 2019. Lorrae had the opportunity to meet with two Prize winners 20 years apart: 2016 Prize winner Zuzana Caputova, now the first female president of Slovakia (blog) and 1996 Prize winner Albena Simeonova, who empowered citizens to address environmental concerns in newly democratic Bulgaria.

On the Ground with Albena Simeonova

Following my visit with Zuzana Caputova in Slovakia (read the blog here), I arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, to meet with Albena Simeonova (Bulgaria, 1996).

Albena is founder and chair of the Bulgarian Organic Products Association, which organizes all the organic farmers’ markets in Sofia. The only items sold at the markets are organic or made with organic products. In addition to her position of leadership, Albena is a member of the community herself—she and her husband have a small, 80-acre farm where they grow organic grapes and make organic wine sold at the farmer’s market. Raised on a farm myself, I felt right at home at the market with Albena.

Picture of Albena at farmers market in Sofia

Albena holding her family’s wine at the farmers market in Sofia (left); Albena and members of the Bulgarian Organic Products Association, all whom are vendors at the market (right).

The day after I arrived, Albena was a featured guest and speaker at the Bulgarian Press Club for the Organic Bee Growers Association. Her foundation is working with the Organic Bee Growers Association to stop the use of pesticides in Bulgaria that are killing bees. According to Albena, most farmers have their own beehives to pollinate their crops, so this is an issue of particular importance. Highlighting the gravity of the situation, there are 30 such associations in Bulgaria, and all farmers are members of one association or another. As a highly respected advocate for the protection of the environment, Albena was one of the only women asked to attend the conference.

Picture of Albena at conference

Albena discusses her campaign at the Bulgarian Press Club for the Organic Bee Growers Association

Following a meeting with Albena and her campaign manager, Borislav Sandov, she expressed some concern about email threats she has started to receive. Unfortunately, Albena is no stranger to threats. In the early 2000s, her life was threatened on a daily basis following her success in preventing construction of a nuclear power plant. As part of the Defense of Prize Winners program, the Goldman Environmental Foundation provided security assistance to Albena.

The most recent threats to Albena are regarding her work to stop a new nuclear power plant project. The proposed plant is to be built by a Russian company on the border of Bulgaria and Romania. We will be following her campaign closely and will work with her and her staff should she need additional security assistance.

A Tireless Defender of the Environment

A non-stop worker and tireless campaigner, Albena is always involved with several projects at once. The following day, she raced back to the countryside to organize another protest. A large construction company was illegally dredging a tributary of the Danube River close to her hometown, destroying the riverbank and water supply in the process.

Earlier in 2019, Albena was elected to the city council in Pleven, Bulgaria. She is hopeful that this will give her additional regional recognition and provide further personal protection as she speaks out against a pro-nuclear government. Albena often mentioned to me how winning the Goldman Prize back in 1996 helped her continue her environmental activism.

Picture of protest and swearing in to city council

Albena and members of the community protesting the dredging of a tributary of the Danube River that was destroying the waterway (left); Albena at the swearing-in ceremony to the city council in Pleven, Bulgaria (right)

The opportunity to visit Albena in Bulgaria provided me with an entirely new perspective of the Prize winners and their work. It enhanced my understanding of what she deals with on a day-to-day basis, the changes she has been able to make, and the significant contributions she continues to make in her country. I am honored that the Goldman Prize has played a role in Albena’s ongoing fight for our environment.

Picture of Albena and fellow beekepers

Albena meets with fellow beekeepers from various associations to stop the use of pesticides that are destroying the bee population in Bulgaria.

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About the author:
Lorrae Rominger PictureLorrae Rominger grew up on a fifth-generation farm in rural California, where her family lives and raises organic tomatoes. Prior to joining the Prize in 2003, she spent 25 years working in entertainment as a producer in film, television, music, and sports. Beginning in Los Angeles as the executive assistant to the manager of the rock star Prince, she also worked at Sony Pictures, Sports Channel, and Madison Square Garden Productions in New York, and led the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television in San Francisco. Lorrae joined the Prize in 2003.