What’s wrong with cake and candles? Albanian Socialists think slaughtering 1,000 lambs to mark the country’s 100th birthday is an ‚embarrassment‘. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Barring an unlikely, last-minute reprieve, 1,000 lambs are to be slaughtered on Wednesday at the high point of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of Albanian independence.
The mass slaughter, organised by the government of Albania’s prime minister, Sali Berisha, has stirred controversy and protest, with one opponent describing it as a „grotesque embarrassment“. On Monday, members of the youth wing of the opposition Socialist party protested outside the prime minister’s office, carrying banners and large photographs of lambs.
Three heads of state and at least five government leaders are expected in the capital, Tirana, to attend the celebrations at which the cooked lamb will be served to guests on two 200 metre-long tables. Albania proclaimed its independence from the Ottoman empire on 28 November 1912, when the red-and-black standard of its national hero, Skanderbeg, was raised in the town of Vlore.
The body of Albania’s pre-war ruler, King Zog, has been returned to his homeland to mark the anniversary. Festivities have included concerts, parades and the construction of a centennial monument. But it is the slaughter of the lambs that has galvanised Berisha’s opponents.
„This is a country that is traditionally not very vegetarian – let’s put it that way,“ said the Socialists‘ youth spokesman, Erjon Veliaj. „The issues of animal rights and cruelty are not pre-eminent. But to glorify this process gives this society a reputation it doesn’t deserve.“
He added: „I think there are a lot of things to celebrate in this country, from Mother Teresa to the Blues Brothers and to put this seal of grotesque embarrassment on the festivities is dismaying.“ Mother Teresa of Calcutta – born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu – was an ethnic Albanian from Skopje. John Belushi, star of the 1980 cult movie, was the son of Albanian emigrants to America.
Around 80% of Albania’s population is Muslim, with most of the remainder Roman Catholic or Orthodox. But the country has strong traditions of secularism and religious moderation.
The prime minister’s office could not be contacted for comment.