Zagreb Quake & COVID-19 shaping future of heritage

On Sunday, 22 March, Zagreb was shaken by 5,3-magnitude (VII) earthquake. This event affected many of the heritage institutions: museums, archives, libraries, and restoration facilities. It further added to the effects of the recent pandemic-curbing measures and restrictions, causing many cultural activities to be canceled.

This combined crisis particularly severely affected the community and independent cultural workers and centers.

In the aftermath of the quake, managers and employees gathered in their respective institutions (trying to adhere to the pandemic distancing orders), some to find everything in order, and some sharing images of damages they have found.

The situation is further complicated by partial lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing, restrictive movement around the city including suspension of public transport for all non-essential services providers with passes, and collective leave measures (which some tried to reverse after the quake), affect the organization’s ability to respond to the crisis and launch response and recovery activities.

Further to the testimonials of the heritage professionals, it seems that very few institutions in Zagreb had the disaster risk management system installed, despite the initiative of the City’s Disaster risk management office during 2019. The National and University Library in Zagreb, however, remained a leading example in this field in Croatia. It started systematically building its disaster readiness and resilience capacities since 2017, which was further enhanced by the circumstance that it was selected to hosts in its premises the Croatian EU Council Presidency in the first half of 2020.

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Most emergency professionals tacitly noted with relief that current hazard analysis for the City of Zagreb anticipated the possibility of a much stronger quake. However, this still remains an unlikely immediate threat.

Over 60 aftershocks in the days following Sunday quake keep reminding the locals that Zagreb is in a geologically very active area. And, the memory of the last strong Zagreb quake from 1880 resonates strongly across media.

Safety inspection of affected buildings by engineers and fire department are currently underway, as financial estimates of damages will follow shortly. Condition of the bridges over the River Sava – a citizens’ concern for many years, has been declared unaffected by the quake, yet their usual condition requires attention in any case.

In addition to the institutional culture, which will receive immediate state assistance, the quake has also strongly affected the LGBTI community. The Iskorak’s cultural & health community center in Zagreb has been one of the most damaged and partially collapsed. The building has been partially declared not safe to use by the engineers, while the second part of the building awaits further inspection.

Considering the national scope and importance of Iskorak for the LGBTI community, abandoning current space due to engineer’s orders, with no alternative premises, may strongly affect the organization’s prevention and support programs, influencing already fragile local and national LGBTI wellbeing. Iskorak staff and volunteers, since the partial lockdown ordered a week ago, are delivering some of the services online and remotely.

At the same time, this week the organization is launching the campaign to find an adequate and safe alternative space or produce alternative solutions – such as a mobile unit, for which they are trying to acquire a van. This alternative would compensate for the movement and gathering restrictions, which are expected to stay in force for months on.

The effects of the quake in combination with the pandemic have been extensive and deep for the institution and civil cultural sectors in Zagreb and Croatia in particular.

To address the effects of the pandemic on the cultural sector, the organization Culture Funding Watch had launched an online conference gathering over 300 professionals from all over the world. Saša Tkalec of the Cultural Innovation Center has also taken part and participated in the subgroup of the civic and community cultural organizations. Read the conclusions of the conference here.

There is a growing number of projections claiming that a deep crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the Zagreb Sunday quake may strongly affect the nation’s capacity to lead an effective, comprehensive and speedy recovery campaign. This circumstance might be strongly felt particularly among the community and independent cultural workers and organizations, and spill over into further loss of national capacity for innovation and creating added value for the society.

The government has proposed temporary, modest and experimental relief and recovery measures to deal with this unique economic situation. Amid the fluidity of prospects of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Zagreb quake, as well as in comparison to the intensity of measures from the Croatian model countries, local government’s efforts have been challenged not to be sufficiently comprehensive, relevant and effective.

The response to a pandemic is ongoing, and recovery after the Zagreb quake has just started. Most hope that lessons have been learned and that recovery from this combined crisis will be shorter than from the economic crisis in 2008, from which Croatia barely emerged in late 2019.

For updates on culture & heritage situation in Zagreb and Croatia in pandemic and in the aftermath of Zagreb quake, please check Disaster Management in Culture page on Facebook.

All photos in this article are included with the permission of the author who wished to remain anonymous, known to the author.

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