The Bombing of the Viceroy’s Palace – Gorbachev warned Tuđman that the Serbs would attack Zagreb

At 2:47 PM on 7 October 1991, a general public alert was sounded in the city of Zagreb. Fourteen minutes later, a Yugoslav Air Force jet flew over the historic Upper Town and bombed the Viceroy’s Palace, then the seat of Croatian President Franjo Tuđman.

A few days earlier, the rump presidency of Yugoslavia which consisted of representatives from Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosovo made a decision to impose a state of war in Yugoslavia. General Veljko Kadijević of the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) used this to threaten Croatia that a general attack was imminent if Croatian forces did not end the blockade of military facilities. On the night of 6 October, the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev sent a message to Belgrade demanding the cessation of all war activities in Croatia and emphasized, among other things:

We have information that the beginning of attacks on large industrial centers and even the Croatian capital Zagreb is approaching.

Referring to Gorbachev’s message, President Tuđman told a news conference on the morning of 7 October:

We are still interested in an immediate ceasefire; we are still interested in a peaceful solution to the crisis… If the Yugoslav army attacks Zagreb, it will be another pearl in its strategy of destroying Croatian cities.

On that day, Tuđman received Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Marković and Yugoslav President Stjepan Mesić at the Viceroy’s Palace to discuss questions related to the reconstruction of Yugoslavia and resolution of state and legal matters related to Croatia. At a working lunch, Tuđman tried to persuade Marković, a Croat, to make himself available to the Croatian authorities yet he persistently refused.

While they were having lunch, two Yugoslav Galeb fighter jets took off from the airport in Udbina and two MIGs fighters from Bihać. Although they undertook a manoeuver intended to deceive the operations center of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, a public alarm was still sounded. The president ignored it and after lunch continued the meeting with Mesić and Marković in his office behind closed doors. At 3:01 PM, one of the Galebs dropped an American-made bomb on the Viceroy’s Palace, timed to explode at a height of five metres, that is, the height of the second floor of the palace.

The bomb fell in the inner courtyard of the building and caused significant material damage, especially in the room where Tuđman had lunch with his associates and guests only a few minutes earlier. The second Galeb missed the target and hit the nearby Dubravkin Put Restaurant, where Marko Mihić was killed as he sat on the terrace. The attack was soon joined by the MIGs who missed their target and instead hit buildings on Visoka Street.

The date of the assassination attempt was by no means coincidental. The moratorium imposed by the European Community that postponed Croatia’s declaration of independence expired that same day. As the assassination attempt failed, in dramatic circumstances the next day the Croatian Parliament confirmed the decision of 25 June and severed all state and legal ties with the failed Yugoslavia.

Although the police brought criminal charges in late 2017 against six members of the former YPA suspected of planning, organizing and executing the strike on the Viceroy’s Palace, to date no one has been punished for the attack on the seat of the President of the Republic of Croatia.

Cover photo – Zoran Filipović

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