“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” reads a famous misquote attributed to Ben Franklin. While beer lovers merely wish he said something to this effect (in reality, he uttered something similar about wine), the sentiment has seemed true for centuries. So it may seem ironic that during Turkmenistan’s “Happiness Week,” the government has banned alcohol.
Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has declared the first week in April to be a celebration of the “era of power and happiness” across the Central Asian nation, hosting a series of public shows and sporting events to show off the country’s prowess. And with that, shopkeepers have been ordered to remove all beer and liquor from their shelves.
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To be fair, the official name of the celebration is the “Week of Health and Happiness,” and alcohol fits only one of those categories. The former Soviet republic devotes this week each year to promote personal fitness and well-being. This year, the title has been expanded to include the “happiness” moniker. It’s an ostentatious celebration that has seen authoritarian president Berdymukhamedov take a front-and-center role, reportedly running three miles (five kilometers) to get to a cabinet meeting.
The week will be capped off by the opening of the National Institute of Tourism and Sports and the annual “Walk of Health” up a five-mile-long (eight-kilometer-long) staircase built into the mountains near the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat.
And of course, the country’s residents will have to do it soberly, as the booze ban won’t be lifted until Wednesday. Wait, did someone say something about happiness?