Croatian Radiotelevision Story from 1998 Tells the Tale of Reconstruction of Strašnik

By 6 January 2021
Screenshot from the segment from 1998
Screenshot from the segment from 1998

January 6, 2021 – A Facebook post started making the rounds in Croatia today, where archival footage from the village of Strašnik in 1998 is shown, where the concerns about the quality of the construction work after the Homeland war is questioned.

You can see the video in question below:

The video is from an extremely popular Croatian Radiotelevision show called “The Fruits of the Land” (Plodovi zemlje), which is the longest-running TV show on national television – it has been continuously broadcast since 1958. In the Nineties, the show was hosted by the extremely popular host Ivo Lončar, who has since passed away, but who produced the segment in question.

In the introduction to the segment, we are briefly told the story of Strašnik village, which is a village most people in Croatia had not really heard of before December 29th, 2020, when it was the epicentre of the disastrous earthquake. During the Homeland war of the early Nineties in Croatia, the occupying forces burned most of the homes in the village and forced the (mostly Croatian) people living there to flee their homes. After the success of Operation Storm in August of 1995, and in the spring of 1996, the return of the villagers began. Unfortunately, Ivo Lončar says in the piece, the return was not as efficient as was promised to them – as evidenced by the fact that out of the 400 people living in the village before 1991, only about a hundred of them returned before 1998, when the segment was produced. Before the war, most of those 400 people lived mostly off the land, most of them had cows and sold milk.

The people of Strašnik told the story of the state-funded and managed project of the reconstruction of their homes, stressing that the project started off on the wrong foot. The construction work itself was performed by the Krs company (the segment says it’s from Zagreb, but other sources say that the company was from Osijek), and the oversight was performed by the Sirać company. Back in 1998, when the segment was made, the people of the village told the reporter that the quality of the work performed was extremely low, This was at the moment when more than 70% of the houses in the village has been completed. 30 percent of the homes were never rebuilt, and the electricity was re-installed in the village in 1998, two years after the beginning of the project.

The people of the village publicly accused the head engineer, who led the project of rebuilding the homes in Strašnik, of open corruption. A villager (Stjepan Prašnjak from the local administration) explains to the reporter that they had come in contact with him personally and tried explaining to him that many odd things were happening during the construction phase, including the example in which the entire foundation of a house was built using 5 sacks of concrete. The same person also told the story of a villager who had returned to their home, went to sleep during the night and was awakened by the sounds of something breaking, crashing, only to discover that his chimney was crashing down!

Mr. Prašnjak then explained that the people of the village had tried complaining to numerous instances, both on the local, county level, and also on the national level through the Ministry in charge of the reconstruction of Croatia after the war. The replies they received were mostly that the problems will be fixed on the field, and that the company performing the construction work would have to foot the bill for any irregularities. Back in 1998, he added that nothing has been done to fix any problems.

The reporter continued to explain that the low-quality materials were used in the construction (concrete, brick, iron, roofing tiles), and the work performed was also bad. To prove the inferior quality of the work, the fact that in the first winter after the work was completed, in 1996, when the first snow came, 5 or 6 chimneys came down on their own, plaster started coming down on various houses etc. The windows and the doors were of very low quality, as well as plumbing and electricity installations. Ivo Lončar said outright that the reconstruction of the houses was plagued by the smuggling of the construction materials. Stjepan Prašnjak adds that the person who was in the village representing the company took bribes from the villagers, stating that there are witnesses who can corroborate that.

Most of the houses and the outbuildings were reconstructed by the villagers themselves, who invested their own funds into that. They felt bitter that they weren’t supported by the state more in that. The segment continued to explain the economic situation in the village, where there was only one tractor in 1998, and they were not given any financial support for the planting season.

Ivica Perković from the village told the story of his return to the village, which took place in 1998. First of all, he complained about the state of his house and said that it was impossible to return if you don’t have a house. He continued to say that both the speed and the quality of the reconstruction was not satisfactory. To prove his point, he stated that the works on his house had started in 1996, and that they were still not finished in 1998. He had complained about that fact to the Ministry, who responded to his complaints, but nothing had changed. He then explained that he had 5 cows, which he got milk from for sale, and some pigs, and that agriculture was the only way to make their living in the village.

Nikola Starešinović from the village told his story later in the segment, where he explained how, after his house had been rebuilt, it was discovered that the foundation of his new home had not been done properly. The foundation of his house was crumbling away (you can see that yourself around the 9:30 mark of the segment). He had complained about that to the institutions in charge, and the overseer came to his house and issued the recommendation of what needed to be done to fix the problem – and it was never done! He explained that he had no idea who else to complain to, to have his house fixed properly. He then continued to explain his life as a new farmer in the region.

Josip Šubić told the example of a house which had supposedly been reconstructed, where the water installations and the water heater had been installed, while at the same time the house didn’t have the doors or the windows. He added that when the people in charge of the oversight arrive in the village, they kept saying that the work is doing great.

The segment finishes on a very pessimistic note, with a villager saying that he regretted returning to the village and that he understood why young people were not coming back. The other one explained how and why people of the village were disappointed. Ivica Perković tried to give an optimistic view of the situation, saying that he loved the village and that more and more people were returning to it.

Ivo Lončar concluded the segment by stating that the reconstruction in Strašnik was officially finished, that the workers and the machinery had left the village. What remained were unfinished houses, even those finished are of low quality, people were sad and disappointed, the outhouses were never built by the state, there is no production of anything in the village, and he asks for how much longer the people of Strašnik need to suffer.

In 2021, the only thing we can say is – unfortunately, their suffering is far from over.

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