Beekeeping as Cultural Heritage in Slovenia: Between Tradition and Modern Spirit
In Slovenia there are around 11,000 beekeepers. Considering Slovenia has a population of approximately 2,000,000 this means more than four per 1000 people in Slovenia are beekeepers. These statistics are the reason why Peter Kozmus and Ales Gregorc state that Slovenia is “truly a nation of beekeepers” (Kozmus/Gregorc 2015, p.65). But why is beekeeping such a popular occupation in Slovenia? Why is it considered a “Slovenian” thing to do? And what has the Apis mellifera carnica, the Carniolan Bee, to do with it? In other words, how can all of these aspects be put together to construct a collective Slovenian identity? These are the questions we wanted to explore in our fieldwork.
However, our first approach to the topic did not include bees at all. Knowing that 2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage we wanted to find a topic that is linked to the cultural heritage of Slovenia and stumbled across a photographic exhibition called “I Feel Slovenia. I Feel Culture.”, where 38 photographs were chosen to represent Slovenia’s tangible and intagible cultural heritage. Originally thinking about doing a research project on this collection of photographs, our always supportive contact at the Institute of Slovenian Ethnology, Saša Poljak Istenič, directed our attention to a specific photograph that showed bees. She told us about the significance of beekeeping for Slovenia’s cultural heritage as it has been practiced in Slovenia for several centuries and also that recently a new beekeeping practice has been evolving in the city of Ljubljana, the so called “Urban Beekeeping”. Finding this to be a captivating topic we decided to focus our field research on the two faces of Slovenian beekeeping and their relation to one another considering their roles in tradition and cultural heritage, environmental issues and the international reputation of the country. In our week of field research we met up with many different people to cover as many aspects as possible. We had interviews with beekeepers (traditional and urban ones), curators of museums that deal with beekeeping as cultural heritage (Slovene Ethnographic Museum, Museum of Apiculture) and also the marketing manager of a hotel in Ljubljana. Through these interviews we sought to identify the cultural, environmental, economic and international aspects of beekeeping in Slovenia. All of our interview partners created a diverse picture of Slovenia’s cultural landscape regarding bees and beekeeping, which I have tried to capture in this essay.
The „Slovenian Bee“, The Importance of Honey and the construction of a „Slovenian identity“
To understand the extraordinary relationship between Slovenia’s beekeepers and their bees, it has to be said that Slovenia has a long history of beekeeping. Many revolutionary beekeeping techniques were invented by Slovenians. This is valuable because in our research it showed that the knowledge which survived over centuries is one of the most appreciated heirlooms for Slovenian beekeepers.
Tradition vs. Modern Spirit: How Urban Beekeeping Changes the Image of Slovenia
When doing research about beekeeping in Slovenia sooner or later you will stumble upon the Museum of Apiculture in the city of Radovljica, where you can learn everything about the historical use and development of beekeeping in Slovenia. Being investigative researchers, we of course made our way to the museum, which is located in an old Baroque building. So already at this stage you get the feeling that you are entering a very special place which has a long history and tradition that needs to be taken care of and also made aware of.
by Lisa Mentzl