The traditional pig slaughter in Croatia as well as the neighbouring Serbia is a widespread practice that involves pig slaughtering, processing, and butchery of pig meat, and is observed by rural families, usually in late autumn. The tradition is variously called kolinje, prašćina, svinjokolj, svinjokolja or svinjokolje or posjek. The names literally mean “pig-slaughtering” (svinja=pig, n., klanje=slaughter, n.). It is a custom specific to the parts of the countries in the Pannonian plain.
After WWII, in Yugoslavia, a state holiday fell on November 29, with that and next day being non-working, so most slaughters were held on that occasion. In Croatian region Dalmatia, the pig-slaughter are traditionally done in period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The entire duration of the slaughter can be as long as three days. Because people were traditionally stocking up on supplies before winter, it became customary to slaughter more than one pig, which increased the amount of time necessary for the meat to be processed. Some families visit their relatives (often grandparents) and friends at that time of the year, in order to help. Also, little mechanization is used, with meat being cut manually. Any grinding is done with relatively small manually operated, mechanical grinding machines.
The traditionally produced ham (šunka), bacon (slanina), the sausages (kobasica) such as blood sausage (krvavica) and kulen are well known as delicacies. Some of them, notably kulen, are classified under the laws of protected designation of origin. The non-meat products such as cracklings (čvarci) or švargl and hladetina are also respected as parts of traditional cuisine.
To complement the activities, rakija or wine is drunk by participants during the butchering.
The pig liver is customarily roasted the same day of the slaughter.
Men and women were traditionally assigned different jobs during the slaughter. It was commonly the men who were doing the actual slaughter, the larger part of butchering, and the grinding of meat. Because the society is traditionally patriarchal, the women were in charge of a relatively menial tasks, such as waiting and cooking for the whole crew throughout the event, keeping the environment clean (washing and scrubbing), as well as the emptying the pigs’ bowels in order to make them suitable for holding sausage meat.
The standard of hygiene long recommended by veterinarians has included various requirements for the people, tools and space used in the process. All people involved in the slaughter and butchering must be healthy, dressed with a hat, apron and boots, and clean hands. The tools (knives, axes, saws etc.) are sharpened, cleaned and disinfected before use, and they should be kept in a clean place throughout the process, preferably in a clean toolbox around the butcher’s belt. The location of the killing needs to be a clean concrete surface with a sewer canal, meaning that the space can be easily cleaned. The trough used should have a zinc surface which is easy to clean and disinfect; the wooden troughs absorb water and microorganisms which makes them unsuitable.
The Croatian Ministry of Agriculture has published rules on sanitation requirements for animal slaughter since 1992, animal waste disposal rules since 2003, while regulations from 2005 also cover animal welfare in relation to slaughter. These rules track the relevant European Union regulation.
Croatian animal rights activists regard the traditional slaughtering process as cruel and outdated. They also question if European animal welfare and sanitary standards are really met, as there is not sufficient supervision available during the country-wide slaughter. Farmers are barely educated about the new standards they have to apply to, as this information is solely available through a website from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The most vocal Croatian animal rights organization “Animal Friends Croatia” advocates banning the entire practice.
In the process of Croatia’s entry into the EU, there were widespread fears that new legislation would make svinjokolja as such illegal, forcing all pig slaughter to be conducted in controlled, inspected facilities. The fears were unwarranted because new regulation focused on stopping distribution of unhealthy meat products on the open market, rather than the traditional process where meat is consumed within the same household.