Accustomed to bragging of victory rather than swallowing defeat, the usually self-assured Bosnian Serbs here are saying they feel betrayed and are fed up with the war they have conducted with seeming invincibility for so long.
A sense of shock and bewilderment descended on this city, the largest the Serbs hold in Bosnia, as the truth sank in that the Serb-held Krajina area had caved in without a fight to the Croatian forces.
For the first time since the Yugoslav conflict began, soldiers and ordinary citizens are questioning the motives of the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, and the Bosnian Serb leaders who, for the time being, make their headquarters here: Radovan Karadzic, the political leader, and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the commander of the military.
“We feel betrayed by everyone,” said a 35-year-old soldier who was home from the front for a five-day break. “Karadzic is accusing Milosevic, Milosevic tarnishes Karadzic and we are only the pawns in their game.”
Adding to the confusion is the spectacle of a cold-blooded public brawl between the once-unified Karadzic and Mladic. Last week, Karadzic demoted the military chief, but when Mladic refused to step aside and his 20 generals all backed him, Karadzic unceremoniously reinstated him.
Each has accused the other of being mad, according to officials who were present while the accusations were flying.
Karadzic, a psychiatrist by profession, said last week that Mladic was certifiably crazy, according to an official who was present. And Mladic told Karadzic recently that he had “spent too long with his patients,” one of the general’s aides said.
What this demoralized spirit in the ranks and the cracks in the hierarchy will mean on the battlefield or at the negotiating table as the United States pursues new peace proposals is hard to discern.
Karadzic said in an interview published on Saturday in the Bosnian Serb government newspaper Glas Srpski (Serbian Voice), “I prefer that the international community spits at us while we win and we fulfill our aims than the international community pities us and spits at our enemies who, God forbid, would be winning.”
Mladic, who was said by his officials to be at the battlefront the last two days, knew that public support for the war effort was very low, an aide said.
The general will try to restore confidence by gaining a battlefield victory in the coming days, the aide said. When that is achieved, he said, Mladic will settle his score with Karadzic.
The economy has crashed so badly, an official said, that the average wage in Banja Luka is now the equivalent of about $60 a month. The embargo imposed by Milosevic on Serbian-held areas of Bosnia a year ago has made an already weak economy worse, the official said. Factories are at a standstill and jobs scarce, he said.
Apparently in response to the people’s desire to leave - an estimated 200,000 Bosnian Serbs have fled to Serbia since the war started - Karadzic said last week that further emigration would be banned.