EU dispatch: new Croatia earthquake reconstruction law may be a model for Turkey, Syria and even war-torn Ukraine Dispatches
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EU dispatch: new Croatia earthquake reconstruction law may be a model for Turkey, Syria and even war-torn Ukraine

Mykyta Vorobiov is a student at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. He is currently in Zagreb, Croatia. 

At the end of February, the Croatian Parliament adopted a law to help speed up reconstruction in the earthquake-affected areas. In 2020, Croatia experienced a few significant earthquakes, and for three years, the country has been unsuccessfully struggling with the reconstruction process and laws. Recently, members of the Croatian Parliament came up with the idea of a new reconstruction law. This judicial step is of extreme importance in light of recent events. It is helpful to examine whether Croatia, through this act, can become an example of successful rebuilding and creating a proper framework for other nations as new major earthquakes hit our world with severe consequences every few years, most recently in Turkey and Syria.

Under this law, the Croatian government will provide people whose property was destroyed by an earthquake with the entire amount of money needed for reconstruction or rebuilding before the start of the process. Also, owners will be able to receive compensation for removing the destroyed building regardless of its original purpose of exploitation. Moreover, according to official information, “the transparency and visibility of the reconstruction process will be strengthened by the creation of a completely interactive online GIS application.” All these deeds are aimed at finally building a proper reconstruction system, which the country has been trying to develop for a while.

At the end of February, I arrived in Zagreb as an exchange student at the University of Zagreb. I was astonished that the Faculty of Political Science is located in a business centre and classes are held in office rooms. After walking through the city and observing the sights, I was surprised that the main cathedrals and galleries were permanently closed, and many beautiful buildings in the central part of Zagreb looked severely damaged. The reason is the terrible 5,5 magnitude earthquake that hit Zagreb in 2020 and caused damage of 11,5 billion euros. Also, at the end of the same year, several other major 6,4 magnitude earthquakes took place in Central Croatia. These were the strongest ones recorded in 140 years.

After the Zagreb earthquake, the Croatian government published a reconstruction plan that was criticized  by architects and politicians and described as inconsistent and chaotic. Still, sometime after the earthquake, Croatia managed to receive EU funds for reconstruction and started the process. Predictably, reconstruction deadlines failed and were always prolonged. Even sufficient funds did not change the situation. The absence of a comprehensive plan made the results of rebuilding invisible to ordinary people and experts. 

Corruption scandals are also to blame for such a weak plan implementation. In 2022, Darko Hornet, who served as a Minister of Construction, Physical Planning and State Property in the Government of Croatia between 2020-2022, was arrested for suspicion of corruption. Allegedly, he illegally received more than 250 000 euros during his work. 

Such cases undermined citizens’ trust and worsen societal problems. Each person with whom I had talked in Croatia about the reconstruction processes has showed an extreme level of untrust in the government in this context. 

Moreover, the former Minister of Construction has accused the Croatian governance of making the process of rebuilding difficult and hence making it harder for ordinary people to receive help. She says that “the reconstruction of Zagreb has not yet begun, not only because of external factors but predominantly because of the failings of the government to produce effective legislation which would enable the swift reconstruction of many damaged homes.”

At the same time, the Society of Architects in Zagreb has said that they are not treated as equals by the Croatian government, and their pieces of advice about rebuilding a city properly are always ignored. The Society has also said that the slowness of reconstruction is a consequence of a problematic approach, which was not created comprehensively, but partially and chaotic. In their opinion, the process should have been professional and effective. In real life, it was adversely affected by complicated and unenforceable legal solutions, weak management skills of authorities and unwillingness to make quick decisions based on experience.

It can be concluded that the problem with reconstruction is not only connected with some external factors but, primarily, with corruption, an inadequate legal base and the unwillingness of the Croatian government to develop a suitable approach drawing on the expertise of professionals. Based on my experience here, these arguments make sense because the reconstruction of some important buildings has not started yet, or has started but is going extremely slowly. Still, the new laws adopted on February 17 of this year aim to change the situation and make rebuilding more smooth and quick.

The Croatian reconstruction process is of great importance because it can be used as a blueprint for rebuilding earthquake-stricken areas in Turkey, Syrian and also even Ukrainian cities that have been lately wrecked by war. Corruption and the absence of political will and corruption also threaten all the above-mentioned developing countries. So each “baby step” Croatia takes towards an appropriate system is precious and should be supported.