Intern Lindsay visiting Petrinja: “I see a lot of similarities between a rural town in America and Europe”

Author: Lindsay Sohn

On my first day of interning for Solidarna, I was given the opportunity to travel to Petrinja, a small rural town about an hour outside of Zagreb. This was my first time in Croatia and I had spent the few days since I arrived exploring Zagreb. I was incredibly interested to venture outside of the city and see what a rural town in Croatia looks like compared to the urban center. I learned that Petrinja had been heavily impacted by the earthquake in 2020 and that Solidarna was collaborating with the Japanese government, various NGOs, and local residents on a regeneration project. We visited the town to attend a presentation and panel discussing the The Petrinja Post-Earthquake Urban Regeneration Project. The project aims to implement reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts following the earthquake. It also involves the integration of Japanese practices of post-earthquake rehabilitation and community engagement.

The earthquake significantly impacted remote rural areas, restricting access to shelter, drinking water, food, and hygiene items. Prior to the earthquake, Petrinja was an already disadvantaged economic region as a result of the devastation from the war. The earthquake damaged the transportation of food and other necessities and increased the number of residents living below the poverty line. The reconstruction of damaged housing and facilities began in June 2021, involving the removal of fully destroyed buildings, and the reconstruction of residential and public buildings began in July 2021.

My trip to Petrinja allowed me to directly examine the repercussions of natural disasters and conflict in a town with existing economic instability and a history of a lack of government attention and intervention. Attending this presentation and panel was particularly interesting for me for several reasons.

 I was born in a small rural town in Oregon called Glide but moved to the Bay Area by the time I was three. My father owns a small general store and trailer park in the neighboring town and I spend significant time there during the summers. When a mentor at Solidarna told me about the poverty rates and unemployment issues in Petrinja, I thought about similar issues facing Glide, a place that despite not being a permanent resident, I have always felt a personal connection to. 

As we drove out of Zagreb and entered the smaller, rural area, I was struck by the beauty and vast space away from the city. Similarly, Glide is known for its nature, situated along the beautiful North Umpqua River. My dad’s store in Idleyld Park serves as a local food and convenience source for the small community but also caters to tourists during the summer driving along the North Umpqua highway to Crater Lake. As I drove through Petrinja, I felt similar to a tourist driving by Glide, passing through a local community experiencing significant economic instability. The poverty rate in Glide stands at 15.40% compared to the national poverty rate of 14.1% and many locals face a lack of educational and occupational opportunities. 

I was also interested in this regeneration project because I have been studying peace and conflict in college, specifically in regard to the reconstruction of post-conflict societies. I took a course about “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland where we traveled to Belfast to learn about the conflict and examine the post-conflict society. I learned that the demilitarization process faced major setbacks due to a lack of government assistance. Prisoners would be released but had limited social and institutional support, often resulting in unemployment or unsuccessful reintegration. Economic and institutional support, as well as training and educational programs, are key components that contribute to successful reconstruction following the conflict. The reconstruction process in Northern Ireland did not involve a lot of international support and some scholars have proposed that this weakened its success. This makes me hopeful that the project in Petrinja will be successful due to international financial support and collaboration. 

Solidarna director Ivan Blažević spoke in the presentation about the importance of youth involvement in the regeneration project and I was reminded of peacebuilders in Northern Ireland discussing the significance of young people in reintegration. Psychological and political research points towards the idea that the process of reconstruction, whether from direct conflict or natural disasters, requires a focus on youth. In the case of the demilitarization of FARC in Columbia, peacebuilders are calling on the youth to be partners and champions for advancing disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. Young people and youth organizations have been at the forefront of social movements promoting human rights and justice. Ignoring youth might feed a continuous cycle of distrust in the reconciliation process. Young people are also generally more future-oriented and innovative, often raising awareness about the reconstruction process in schools and the community. 

In regards to my personal experiences visiting Glide in the summer, I was not aware of widespread opportunities for youth participation. After doing some research I was able to find available positions in the Glide Baptist Church and a job vacancy as a Republican Youth Coordinator. These jobs reflect the high levels of religiosity, as well as the dominant political party in this region of Oregon. I believe that there should be more opportunities that aren’t directly tied to a religious or political organization. One organization called Glide Revitalization is offering nursing scholarships for graduates of the local high school . This sounds like a perfect example of the intersection between regeneration, youth opportunity, and participation. Existing research on youth participation points towards the idea that involving young people in decision-making processes could impact their futures in terms of educational and occupational opportunities

The presentation in Petrinja included a display of art by the children at the school where the event was held. I found that the artwork evoked a sense of personal connection to the children living in Petrinja, which has the potential to bring investors and other professionals involved closer to the issues at hand. 

Another essential factor in reconstruction is the involvement of those directly involved. In the case of Petrinja, this means that it is important that the residents themselves are involved in the decision-making and regeneration process. This idea was mentioned many times during the presentation and it was amazing to see concepts that I had learned about in class in a real-world situation. I think this is especially important because it ensures that the issues being addressed are matching the needs of the community being affected. It also ensures that the reconstruction process is not simply charity work but instead addresses the root causes of the economic instability and other issues facing the community. It is essential that countries and organizations coming from the outside listen to the residents and their needs. This presentation and panel were a perfect example of that, as they gave the residents an opportunity to hear about the project, ask questions, and provide invaluable opinions and insight. 

I was so grateful to be able to visit Petrinja and observe the presentation and discussion. It made me think about how complex regeneration efforts are, involving many different parties in collaboration with each other. The trip allowed me to notice similarities between a rural town in America and a rural town in Europe, such as the presence of economic instability. 

Glide also experienced a natural disaster in 2020 when a massive wildfire spread throughout the county, destroying homes and businesses. The Petrinja regeneration project reminded me of the similar needs of locals in Glide whose livelihoods were upended by natural disaster. I am curious whether a project like this would be possible in Oregon in the foreseeable future. Organizations and schools, including a program at the University of Oregon, have enacted programs to provide assistance to rural communities across Oregon, but I couldn’t find any information about this program working in Glide, which surprised me considering the impact of the fire. 

Overall, this experience supported and strengthened my interest in post-conflict and natural disaster reconstruction and regeneration. I look forward to learning about the development of Petrinja in the upcoming years. 


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