Five things to know about new EU president Slovenia

by AFP

The ex-Yugoslav nation of Slovenia will take up the European Union’s rotating presidency on Thursday for the second time since joining the bloc.

Here are five things to know about the Alpine country, from its love of bees to its sporting prowess.

Small but perfectly formed

Slovenia, together with neighbouring Croatia, declared independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991.

The small nation of some two million, nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, escaped the worst of the conflicts which scarred the region in the 1990s and cost some 130,000 lives.

Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and began using the single currency just three years later.

Slovenia is often confused with its almost-neighbour Slovakia, with former US President George W. Bush among those to have mixed the two countries up.

At one point Slovenia even considered changing its flag to distinguish it from the white, blue and red stripe pattern it also shares with Slovakia.

Beekeeper’s paradise

Beekeeping is a cherished national tradition in Slovenia, with colourful beehives to be found dotted throughout fields, on the edge of forests, in gardens and even on city rooftops.

Some 10,000 people are estimated to have their own hives in Slovenia.

That’s 10 times more beekeepers per head than in Spain, Europe’s biggest producer of honey.

It was a Slovene, Anton Jansa (1734-1773), who wrote the first modern beekeeping manual.

And Slovenia has gone on to lead the way in raising awareness of the plight of bees, as concern has grown over the health of the world’s pollinator population in recent years.

The bee can be spotted as a symbol of industriousness above the doorways of banks and museums.

The country’s central bank even issued a special two-euro coin to mark the first World Bee Day, an initiative launched by Slovenia and backed by the United Nations.

Bears and baby dragons

Slovenia’s more than 14,000 caves are one of the country’s principal tourist attractions and host some of its most famous fauna.

The vast Postojna cave system is home to “baby dragons”, ancient underwater predators that can live up to 100 years and only breed once in a decade.

Above ground, half of Slovenia’s territory is carpeted in forest, where over the past century successive conservation efforts have succeeded in protecting the bear population.

Around a thousand of the animals are now to be found in the wild there, with a few specimens even being exported to France to help reintroduce them to the Pyrenees.

Sporting powerhouse

Slovenia has gained an impressive sporting reputation since independence, racking up 40 Olympic medals.

As well as cycling champions Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar, they can boast a men’s basketball team who won the European championships in 2017 and a men’s volleyball team who were European vice champions in 2019.

The country is also proud of its NBA stars Luka Doncic and Goran Dragic, Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak and skiers such as Peter Prevc and Tina Maze.

Melania Trump country

The former US first lady was born Melania Knavs in the town of Sevnica in the east of the country.

Her arrival in the White House when her husband Donald became US president raised hope he may visit her homeland, but this never happened.

An eccentric statue depicting her near her hometown was branded a “scarecrow” by some locals and was burnt down in July 2020.

A bronze replica was unveiled in September, with the American conceptual artist behind the work saying it was intended as a critique of Trump’s anti-immigrant politics.