The Netherlands celebrates 30 years of diplomatic relations with Slovenia and gives a bee house as a present
This year we celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations with Slovenia. To mark this, on 20 May – World Bee Day – the Netherlands will give Slovenia a bee house as a present. Dutch ambassador Johan Verboom talks about bee culture in Slovenia. ‘Bees are almost sacred here,’ he says.
Many schools in Slovenia have a bee house, so from an early age children learn about the importance of bees. Besides producing honey, bees also pollinate many of the crops we eat. ‘We’re giving a bee house to a school in Duplek, which is two hours’ drive from the capital, Ljubljana,’ says Johan. ‘We’ve invited Belgium and Luxembourg to join us, so the presentation will be a Benelux event.’
After conferring with the Slovenian embassy in The Hague, it was decided to celebrate this anniversary in both countries. The Slovenian embassy will therefore plant 30 rose bushes in Westbroek park in The Hague, because roses also depend on bees for pollination.
Slovenia didn’t become an independent nation until 1991. Up to then, it was part of the former Yugoslavia. In 2004 it became the first country in the region to accede to the European Union.
As Johan points out, Slovenia and the Netherlands have been close partners since that time. They seek each other’s support within the EU and NATO and as Schengen countries. ‘We work closely together in many areas, and our bilateral relations are excellent,’ he says. ‘Trade between our countries totals €1.7 billion a year, and it’s still growing. All the flowers I see here come from the Netherlands, and there’s considerable interest in our innovative solutions for a circular economy. In our turn, we import pharmaceutical and agricultural products and machinery from Slovenia.’
The Netherlands is popular among Slovenians. ‘Dutch is taught at the University of Ljubljana and we now have 400 alumni in our database,’ says Johan. ‘Dutch books are being translated into Slovenian, and Dutch artists hold exhibitions here. This month, for instance, there is a photo exhibition and an exhibition on biodesign.’
World Bee Day
Bees are almost sacred in Slovenia, which has more beekeepers than any other country in the world – four Slovenians in every thousand keep bees. Everywhere ambassador Johan Verboom goes, he sees apiaries. ‘The fronts of the bee houses are painted in various bright colours and patterns,’ he says. ‘The main purpose is to help beekeepers keep the various bee families apart, but the houses are also works of art that brighten up the landscape.’
Because bees are so important to Slovenians, they lobbied the United Nations successfully for a World Bee Day. Starting in 2018, people all over the world celebrate the role of bees and other pollinators on 20 May. This is the date on which Anton Janša, a pioneer of modern beekeeping, was born. ‘Namesake of the Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša!’
‘Slovenians are experts in beekeeping,’ Johan continues. ‘Every year the country produces 25 tonnes of honey. There are around 170,000 bee colonies here, and 500 species of bees.’ Johan is particularly impressed that the honey is both produced and sold locally. ‘Beekeeping is the national sport.’
Protecting bees in the Netherlands and elsewhere
Bees don’t only produce honey, they also pollinate many food crops, especially fruit and vegetables. Without bees, we would lose these foods and our food security would be threatened.
In the Netherlands wild bees are threatened by urbanisation and intensive farming. The Netherlands has therefore drawn up an action plan to protect bees and other pollinators that are essential for our food supply.
At international level, the Netherlands has taken the initiative for countries to work more closely together to promote bees and other pollinators These countries form the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators.