Sunday, April 11, 1999 Published at 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Unease across the Hungarian border
Yugoslav province of Vojvodina - hit by Nato strikes - has a large Hungarian minority
By Nick Thorpe in Budapest
It is noon in the large Hungarian border town of Szeged. The bells in Cathedral Square ring out tunefully. There are even a few tourists taking snapshots of each other in the warm spring sunshine.
"Older people who experienced the revolution in 1956 or World War II, are very frightened when they hear the sound of planes overhead or the explosions in the distance," says Father Laszlo Kretovics, a parish priest in Szeged, sorting through the remains of the Easter daffodils outside his church.
"This arouses very bad memories for them. Once violence starts, they don't know where or when it will end. They were told that the Second World War was going to be a lightning campaign as well."
Yugoslavia's Hungarian minority
In the tranquility of a Szeged street, a violinist plays an old Beatles song. But many Hungarians fear for the fate of the large Hungarian community who live in the northern Yugoslav province of Vojvodina - also a target for the Nato bombing campaign.
"The 300,000 Hungarians can feel more secure because they have got a Nato country behind their back. If there is any action against them, that will be indirectly against any Nato country," says Deputy Foreign Minister Zsolt Nemeth.
"I am, for this reason, optimistic that the Serbians will be wise enough not to treat the Hungarians in Vojvodina as hostages," Mr Nemeth says.
"However, I can't exclude that scenario. But Hungary is prepared for that as well."
Serb attack feared
Examples of that preparedness are the heavily-armed flack-jacketed police and soldiers guarding strategic points throughout southern Hungary, like on the bridge across the River Danube at Baja.
Last weekend, Yugoslav MiG 29 fighter aircraft briefly crossed into Hungarian air space.
On that occasion, an apology was received and the planes left.
But Hungarians are worried that next time the planes might attack and the war might spread.
War could spread to Vojvodina
The hourly news programme on Hungarian radio overflows with news from Serbia and Kosovo.
Local journalist, Ferenc Kishimre, was born in Vojvodina but fled with his family in 1991 to avoid the call-up for the war with Croatia.
He says the friends and relatives he left behind are afraid.
"Everyone is afraid. The young ethnic Hungarians in the Yugoslav army, their parents," Mr Kishimre says.
"Then, everyone in Vojvodina fears that the conflict will spread there, too, and worst of all that the whole of Yugoslavia will collapse in flames. Because if civil war starts there it won't be possible to tell any longer who's fighting against who."
Hopes for a quick solution
The spectre of Nato planes attacking Yugoslav ground troops in Kosovo - including ethnic Hungarians in the Yugoslav army - haunts many Hungarian politicians.
Even the sense of safety provided by Nato's security umbrella overhead does not dispel the gloom.
Most people simply hope that the bombing of Serbia and the tragedy of Kosovo will end very quickly.