The Yugoslav People’s Army attacks Barcs in Hungary

At 8:51 PM on 27 October 1991, Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) aircraft dropped cluster bombs on the Hungarian town of Barcs along the Drava River not far from Virovitica, Croatia.

It was the culmination of tense relations between Serbia and Hungary, which supported Slovenia and Croatia on their path to independence. The Hungarian government led by Jozsef Antall closely monitored the crisis in Yugoslavia and the Homeland War, primarily for geopolitical reasons but also out of concern for the Hungarian minority in Croatia who fell victim to Greater Serbian aggression especially in the regions of Baranja, Eastern Slavonia and Srijem. A large Hungarian minority was also located in the Vojvodina region of Serbia and this prompted Hungary to lead a very cautious foreign policy with regards to the Yugoslav crisis.

Due to the international arms embargo, Croatia imported much-needed weapons through Hungary in the first months of the Homeland War. In addition, Hungary also provided humanitarian aid to Croatia and accepted tens of thousands of refugees. In Baranja County in Hungary, the government even organized school classes in the Croatian language for refugee children from Croatia.

The first border incidents between Hungary and the YPA began after the occupation of the region of Baranja in Croatia when rebel Serbs often opened fire at vehicles across the border in Hungary. As Croatian forces took control of watchtowers along the border with Hungary, Yugoslav aircraft entered Hungarian airspace and several of them were shot down by the Hungarian air defenses. After Croatia’s declaration of independence on 8 October, Hungary took the stance that any further Serbian attack on the Republic of Croatia can only be perceived as an act of aggression.

Anti-Hungarian sentiment in Serbia was heightened by the fact that Hungary did not allow the YPA to withdraw its equipment from Slovenia through its territory and as such, the Hungarian government issued an official statement of concern about the status of the Hungarian minority in Croatia. Following the announcement by the Hungarian Ministry of Defense that it would respond to further provocations with force, the YPA arrogantly attacked the town of Barcs on this day in 1991. Fortunately, there were no human casualties as the bombs fell on the sparsely populated outskirts of the city but residential buildings, a football field and a local cemetery were damaged.

There was much concern when news of the bombing was reported in the Hungarian media. Officially, Budapest did not retaliate with force as it did not want to get involved in the war but it did become even more involved in helping Croats and the Hungarian minority in the face of Greater Serbian aggression. This was done materially through diplomatic channels as well as unofficially through delivery of weapons that immensely helped Croatia in its fight for freedom and independence.

Cover photo – Jozsef Antall, the Hungarian Prime Minister, descends by helicopter to the playground in Barcs, on October 28, 1991.

Heka, Ladislav. “Vanjskopolitički odjek bombardiranja virovitičkog susjednog grada Barča (Barcs) 27. listopada 1991.”. In: Domaći znanstveno stručni skup s međunarodnim sudjelovanjem. Virovitica u Domovinskom ratu., editor Miljenko Brekalo, 221-245. Virovitica: Državni arhiv u Virovitici, 2018

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