Gripped by an us-against-the-world mentality, Bosnia's Serbs went to the polls Saturday intent on giving a resounding "no" to an international peace plan.
As voters trooped dutifully to the ballot boxes on a chilly, gray day, it was impossible to find anyone who would even consider voting otherwise."Everyone will vote no," said Mico Stanic, a man in his mid-70s, as he cast his ballot in Pale, the Serb stronghold just east of Sarajevo. "There is no way that we could accept this suicidal plan."
The two-day referendum, which runs through Sunday, was widely considered irrelevant by an outside world weary of Bosnian Serb intransigence.
Even neighboring Serbia branded it a crude attempt by Bosnian Serb leaders to foist responsibility for a bad decision onto ill-informed voters.
The United States has warned that continued rejection of the peace plan could lead to the lifting of an arms embargo on the Muslim-led government, which has been outgunned by Bosnia's minority Serbs in 28 months of war.
That would mean more bloodshed in a conflict that already has left 200,000 people dead or missing. But Radovan Karadzic, president of the self-proclaimed Serb state within Bosnia, remained defiant as he voted Saturday.
"Our people will have no dilemma," he said. "They'll reject the plan. We will never accept the dictate, and we will never accept a state that is not viable."
The plan, proposed by the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, would reduce Serb holdings to 49 percent of Bosnia from the 70 percent they have seized. A federation of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, who have accepted the plan, would get 51 percent.
Bosnian Serb leaders say the division would leave them with an unworkable state and keep them from uniting with Serbia, the largest of two remaining republics in Yugoslavia.
In the Serb-held district of Grbavica in Sarajevo, the mood was defiant and glum. Nationalist music blaring from a loudspeaker could not drown out the occasional crack of sniper fire.
"I don't even know why we have to vote when the result is already known," said Milica Karic, a young Serb woman. "But if our leaders said we have to vote, they must know better."