Serbs call off pork jelly feast after church threats

1 / 2
Farmers making sausages in a butchers' contest in the Serbian village of Ravno Selo

An annual festival of pork jelly, the pride of the small Serbian village of Rumenka, has been cancelled after the Orthodox Church threatened organisers with excommunication for celebrating during lent.

This year the festival of "pihtija", due to be held late last week, coincided with the beginning of the Orthodox fasting period in the run-up to Easter.

The clash of dates aroused the wrath of Serbian Patriarch Irinej, who saw it as an unacceptable violation.

One of the festival's organisers, Branislav Popovic, told AFP on Tuesday that the patriarch had written to say it was "contrary to Orthodox customs that you hold this pagan display".

Irinej, who is considered to be a conservative among the Serbian clergy, threatened to excommunicate those running the festivities, which attract more than 10,000 guests each year to the village of 5,000 people.

If they pressed ahead, the village church would sound the death knell every half hour, the patriarch warned in his letter, which has been criticised by Serbian atheist groups.

As a result, "after several sleepless nights", Popovic decided "to postpone the demonstration until the first weekend after Easter if it is feasible".

"This created a lot of tension among us, a very unpleasant situation. The local priests were pressing us, they were visiting us at home," he said.

Church authorities for the region did not wish to comment when contacted by AFP, but said a statement would be forthcoming.

In 2005, Irinej intervened to protest against a sausage festival in another Serbian village, but his ire fell on deaf ears.

Orthodox Christianity is the predominant religion in Serbia, which is home to about seven million people. The Church retains a strong influence, particularly in rural areas.