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Busy as a bee

How Slovenia helped to create World Bee Day

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Katja Šturm (otvorí sa v novom okne) (RTV Slovenija)


The 20th of May is World Bee Day, celebrated around the world since 2018. This global initiative has tried to raise public awareness about the importance of bees and other pollinators to humankind. In times when industrialization, urbanization, intensive farming, and deforestation have intensified environmental health risks, it is crucial to raise awareness of the importance of bees. The fact that around 75% of global food crops rely on animal pollination, a third on bees alone, is astounding. Imagine - every third spoonful of food in the world depends on bee pollination.

From Slovenian beekeepers to the United Nations

Proclaiming World Bee Day was a long three-year path in which Slovenia took the lead. The Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association launched the initiative to create a World Bee Day in 2014, and the Slovenian Government supported the initiative shortly afterward. In September 2015, one of the largest international beekeepers’ organizations, Apimondia, backed the initiative.

In the context of this initiative, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Food of Slovenia traveled around the world with a pavilion named Bee World designed especially for this occasion. The pavilion was used to actively promote and provide all the necessary information on the initiative and other related projects. Inside the pavilion, an interactive exhibition offered the visitors the unique experience of the world of bees via augmented reality and a unique audio-sensorial experience. Under the dome-shaped pavilion of hexagonal wooden elements that form a honeycomb, visitors could listen to bees buzzing inside a beehive, smell propolis and engage in many other activities, all utilizing modern virtual technology. The Ministry also held several bilateral meetings with representatives of other countries and international organizations and organized various events for experts.

On 17 November 2017, after more than three years of effort, the UN’s Economic and Financial Committee adopted a resolution proclaiming World Bee Day. On 20 December 2017, the resolution was unanimously backed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, thus designating 20 May as World Bee Day.

Meant to bee - the heritage of Slovenian beekeeping

Seeing the massive objective of World Bee Day, one might ask why Slovenia? Why take up the extensive initiative of raising the awareness of the importance of bees and beekeeping? Was there no one else to take up this role? History and tradition played a key role in Slovenia picking up the initiative.

Beekeeping is one of the most important agricultural branches in Slovenia, it has a long-standing tradition. It was first mentioned in writing in an encyclopedia written by Johann Weikhard von Valvasor in 1689 called the Glory of the Duchy of Carniola. The encyclopedia contains the first longer presentation of beekeeping in Carniola - the present-day central part of Slovenia. Valvasor writes that one can see special little houses for bees in this land.

Slovenia is the homeland of the Carniolan honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica), prized around the world for needing little food, producing large amounts of honey, having a great sense of orientation, and being rather docile. The excellent characteristics of the species have led to its widespread adoption; it is now the second most common honeybee in the world.

Slovenia has its own unique apiary style, their own unique painted beehive panels, A-Ž hives, honey bread biscuits and hearts, and unique apitourism. You cannot find these features anywhere else in the world. Slovenian beekeepers are respected members of society. Some are regarded as legends; Anton Janša, the pioneer of modern beekeeping and Anton Žnideršič who co-developed the A-Ž hive to name a few.

People like these laid the foundation of the extensive beekeeping heritage that we enjoy today. Through their endeavors, Slovenes have been made aware of the important role of bees in the environment, as well as the significance of apiculture in rural development and human health. Slovenian beekeepers, who are mostly united in the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association formed in 1873, are proud to continue and preserve the tradition of their ancestors. Let’s dive into a television clip reporting from 1998 about the 125th anniversary of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association. In 2023 the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association will celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Beekeeping in Slovenia is deemed as the poetry of agriculture. It is not merely keeping the bees for their honey, but so much more. It is a way of life. So, no wonder Slovenia took the lead in proclaiming World Bee Day.

Bee our guest - the rise of apitourism

Slovenian beekeepers have enhanced the beekeeping tradition with apitourism. Apitourism is about promoting bee products, several of which have medicinal applications. In apitherapy, there are numerous possibilities of healing with honey bee products, which can be useful for treating problems such as respiratory diseases, low immunity, various other illnesses and ailments.

In apitourism a visit to a beehive is comparable to a visit to a wine cellar where instead of tasting wine one can taste honey and gastronomic treats made of honey. By participating in a workshop you can learn how to cook with honey or how to make honey dough dishes, honey bread, and pastries.

Slovenia counts more than 10.000 architecturally distinct beehives The novelty of medical apitherapy in a typical Slovenian beehive is a big part of Slovenian apitourism: visitors lie on beehives and relax during a honey massage, inhale beehive air aerosol and listen to the background sound of beehive buzz.

It is well known that beekeepers are known to be healthy, and many live to a ripe old age, retaining their physical energy and clarity of thought to the very end. Being exposed to the hive fragrance that beekeepers inhale while working or resting in the beehive is most pleasant and beneficent. Because of the free circulation of aromatic air from the hives, such bee houses produce an extremely fine microclimate which exerts a favorable effect on the human respiratory system and well-being in general.

Bee the change - apiculture challenges

However, Slovenian apiculture has also had its share of challenges. More than a decade ago, when many beehives in Slovenia died off in mysterious circumstances, Slovenia became one of the first nations anywhere to limit some of the most harmful types of chemicals in pesticides, in large part due to the influence of the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association. The association suspected the culprit was a class of nicotine-like insecticides and urged Slovenia’s Ministry of Agriculture in 2011 to act. A news clip from 2008 indicates several incidents of a mass die-off of beehives throughout Slovenia, all suspecting the use of pesticides.

While the association had anecdotal evidence that neonicotinoids were killing bees, they did not have definitive proof.

The Minister of Agriculture at the time decided to trust the beekeepers’ instincts and banned the use of neonicotinoids that same year becoming one of the first European Union countries to bring in the most stringent measures.

The following news clip from 2012 reports the devastating damage to corn fields due to banned disinfection preparations for the corn seeds and the despair of the farmers.

Even though the measure predictably lowered the next year’s yield of corn, by alerting the international community Slovenia helped pave the way for other countries to restrict or completely ban bee-killing pesticides.

It was only in 2018 that the EU further expanded the ban to all field crops amid growing evidence that neonicotinoids were causing bee colonies to collapse. Still, many activists want more comprehensive restrictions. The die-offs serve as a reminder for Slovenians that a clean environment is essential for one of the country’s most precious treasures.

The challenges bees and beekeepers face are not limited to the use of harmful chemicals. Today bees, pollinators, and many other insects are declining in abundance due to a range of factors, in particular the effects of human activities, such as changes in land use, intensive agricultural practices, as well as pollution, pests, diseases, and climate change.

Bee engaged!

The Covid-19 pandemic warned us that food security is not to be taken for granted. Pollination through bees and wild pollinators provides one of the most important ecosystem services, for the operation of natural as well as agricultural ecosystems. Sure, we do want World Bee Day to be a celebration, but we don’t have a lot to celebrate right now. Let’s use this day as a tool to inform others that bees are important and do small things that will directly help to save them. One example of what you can do to help is to start a pollinator garden – a sustainable home where they can thrive.

Disclaimer: The English subtitles included in the AV clips above were made to convey the general meaning of the clips by Katja Sturm, a non-professional translator.

This post is part of the editorials of Europeana SUBTITLED, a Europeana Generic Services project including seven major national broadcasters and audiovisual archives from seven European countries.

Under the theme of 'Broadcasting Europe’ our editorials showcase how society has been reflected on the television screen in the past eight decades during times of conflict, restrictive regimes, political change, and peace. To this end, we’re using a diverse range of material from Europeana, with a focus on lesser-known and newly aggregated AV content. For more information about Europeana SUBTITLED, visit this page on Europeana Pro.