A Quirijns / Amago / VPRO / ‘T Hart / Sullivan Production
When we speak of war, many of us think of bombing campaigns or armies marching on countries. But these wars - states fighting other states - are in fact a minority. The overwhelming majority of conflicts taking place across the globe are guerrilla wars. Today, across Latin America, Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, more than a dozen conflicts are being waged by small groups who have risen up to fight against their rulers. How are these guerrilla armies formed? Where do they get their money? And how do they get their weapons?
The Brooklyn Connection tells one man’s story of building a guerrilla army. Florin Krasniqi, a 40-year-old immigrant from Kosovo, helped launch the Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s. He did it by raising money and buying high-powered sniper rifles - weapons that are legally purchased - in the United States. You might think that the laws passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks might have rendered it impossible for Krasniqi to do today what he did then. But if Krasniqi were to shop for a guerrilla army today, not only would he remain as unhindered as he was then, he would have access to an even wider variety of weapons because Congress let a 10-year ban on assault rifles expire in September.
Born and raised in Kosovo, Krasniqi now lives with his family in Brooklyn, where he owns a roofing company. At first sight, he appears to be yet another successful American immigrant story. But Krasniqi lives a double life. Apart from running his business, he is one of the driving forces behind Kosovo’s fight for independence. He raised some $30 million during the Kosovo war (1997-99) to help build the KLA, purchasing hundreds of powerful sniper rifles across the country. He transported the weapons to Albania legally, sometimes by boat, sometimes by plane. From there, Krasniqi and his gang smuggled the weapons on donkeys or horses to Kosovo.
Although the war ended in 1999, Krasniqi says there is still unfinished business to take care of in Kosovo. Kosovo’s status was left unresolved when the United Nations arrived in Kosovo in 1999 to govern the province. The current situation remains unacceptable both to Serbs and Albanians. Although the Serbs want to maintain power over the province, Albanians outnumber them by 9 to 1 and want to see Kosovo independent. Krasniqi says he won’t stop gunrunning. “If we don’t get independence, there will be another war. Probably in a year or so. We were capable of luring NATO into our war, so I think we’ll be capable of pushing the UN out if we need to,” he says.
At the same Florin and his compatriots are preparing for war, they are also actively lobbying powerful American politicians. Both Wesley Clark and Richard Holbrooke recently attended one of their fundraising events.
In The Brooklyn Connection, Krasniqi gives a lesson on how to use the United States as a launching pad to wage war abroad, how high-powered sniper rifles and the assault rifles available on the open market in the United States often fuel guerrilla armies, terrorist organizations and organized crime beyond America’s borders. When it was broadcast in the Netherlands in September 2004 twice, one of the leading Dutch dailies, The Volksrant, called it “A compelling documentary...The ease with which he is able to buy the guns is terrifying. The crew had tremendous access to film everything and showed how Krasniqi operates.”
Kosovo, the southernmost province of Serbia, has been contested by Serbs and Albanians for centuries. Although Albanians outnumber Serbs in Kosovo by 9 to 1, Serbia claims that the province is the birthplace of Serb civilization. The two sides have clashed with one another in the Balkan Wars, in World War I, World War II, and most recently, in 1998-1999.
The Serbs and the Albanians differ in ethnicity, language and religion. The Serbs are Slavic, speak Serbo-Croatian, and use the Cyrillic alphabet. The Albanians claim to descend from the Illyrians, speak Albanian, and use the Latin alphabet. The Serbs are Orthodox Christians and the majority of Albanians are Muslim with a small percentage of Catholics.
The following is a short timeline of recent events in the conflict:
The state of Yugoslavia is formed in the wake of World War II. Nearly half of the Albanian population winds up within Yugoslavia’s borders, and the other half lives in Albania. Kosovo Albanians, who want to join their brethren across the border, rebel. Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito squashes the resistance and allows the Serbs to repress the Albanian population.
After nearly three decades of repression, Tito softens his hand and grants Kosovo some autonomy within Yugoslavia. Kosovo becomes an “autonomous province” and Albanians are granted the same rights as the country’s other nationalities - Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Slovenes. However, as Albanians consolidate power in Kosovo, the minority Serbs begin complaining of Albanian oppression.
President Tito dies without choosing a successor, leaving a weak, multi-headed bpresidency in place to rule the country.
In the first public display of unrest since Yugoslavia existed, Albanian students stage a demonstration to protest conditions at the university, but soon, they begin calling for independence. The Federal army is deployed to suppress the protests, exacerbating tensions between the two sides.
Slobodan Milosevic becomes president of Yugoslavia.
On June 28, the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo of Kosovo Polje in which Serbia lost Kosovo to the Ottoman army, Milosevic gives a speech on the former battlefield, declaring that Serbs will never be repressed again in Kosovo. He ignites nationalistic sentiment and a wave of anti-Albanian backlash.
Milosevic revokes Kosovo’s autonomy and implements a series of anti-Albanian decrees. The Albanian language is outlawed in schools and Albanians are fired from all state jobs. Kosovo’s university is turned into an all-Serb institution. The police force is purged of Albanians, and Serbian security forces move into the province en masse to set up an Apartheid state. Albanians organize a pacifist resistance, form a shadow government and set up their own schools and hospitals which are financed by the Albanian diaspora. The shadow government declares independence, but the international community does not recognize it. Milosevic sends in yet more troops and turns Kosovo into a police state.
In June Croatia and Slovenia declare independence and war breaks out. The following year, Bosnia and Macedonia leave the Federation as well and the war spreads. Eventually, the international community recognizes the independence of Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia, but not Kosovo. A brutal, protracted war that gives rise to the term “ethnic cleansing” continues unabated in Bosnia.
After nearly three years of fighting and a failed UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, the United States brokers the Dayton Peace Agreement which ends the war in Bosnia. Kosovo Albanians lobby for the accord to include a solution for Kosovo, but the agreement does not address Kosovo’s status.
The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK), then an obscure militant group, launches its first attacks against Serb police positions.
In March, the KLA mushrooms into an insurgency after Serbian security forces massacre 54 Albanians, including women and children, in their efforts to destroy the guerrilla force. Soon, war between the Yugoslav army and the Albanian guerrillas engulfs the province, resulting in more massacres, hundred of thousands of refugees and destroyed villages.
The KLA continues to attack Serbian police and military positions, and Serb forces continue to retaliate by attacking Albanian villages. In February, Serb and Albanian representatives are summoned to Rambouillet, France for peace talks. The talks fall apart and on March 28, NATO launches a bombing campaign over Yugoslavia. Serb forces launch “Operation Horseshoe,” and drive some 800,000 Albanians out of Kosovo. An estimated 10,000 Albanians are killed. After 78 days of bombing, Milosevic caves in and agrees to pull his forces out of Kosovo.
In June, NATO troops roll into the province and the United Nations establishes an international protectorate in Kosovo. However, the question of Kosovo’s status remains unresolved.
Within days of the Serbian pullout, Albanians begin seeking revenge. Scores of Serbs are killed and thousands are driven from their homes. Neither NATO nor the UN are able to prevent the retaliatory attacks.
As Kosovo prepared for its first election after the war, it appeared as if the international community was prepared to quietly allow the province to become an independent state. However, in October, The Serbian populace took to the street and forced Milosevic to resign. As long as Milosevic was in charge of Serbia, it was generally understood that Kosovo could not remain a part of Serbia. However, with Milosevic gone, and a new, more moderate leader in charge, the international community no longer saw independence as a forgone conclusion.
The Albanians, however, still demanded independence and gradually, they began to see the UN administration of standing in the way of their goal. In March 2004, their anger boiled over. In several days of rioting, they directed much of their anger towards the UN administration, setting fire to UN cars and buildings, as well as Serbian churches, monasteries and houses.
This year, the international community will broker talks on Kosovo’s status. Thus far, neither Serbs nor Albanians have budged from their position, both laying claim to the province. Although both Europe and the United States are involved in the negotiations, the potential for renewed violence remains.
The United States ratifies the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The state of Kentucky bans carrying concealed weapons.
Georgia bans handguns all together. The law is contested and eventually deemed unconstitutional by the state supreme court.
Union veterans of the Civil War, disappointed with army’s marksmanship, Dissatisfied create the National Rifle Association, to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”
Amidst a crime wave in the United States during Prohibition and following an assassination attempt against President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Firearms Act is created to regulate and tax machine guns.
The NRA claims the act is a violation of the Second Amendment and forms a Legislative Affairs Division.
The Federal Firearms Act expands and requires licensing of handgun dealers and bans the sale of firearms to criminals.
The NRA establishes a hunter education program in New York.
Following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, Congress passes the 1968 gun control act, which remains in force today.
The US Treasury Department creates the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The Arms Export Control Act focuses the ATF’s attention on international gun smuggling.
The NRA lobbies for the Firearms Owners Protection Act, which loosens certain restrictions on gun dealers and stiffens penalties for some gun-related crimes -- while raising the burden of proof on others. The legislation is enacted.
The Law Enforcement Protection Act bans the possession of "cop killer" bullets that can shoot through bullet proof armor.
Following an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, Congress passes The Brady Bill, which mandates a national system of background checks for gun purchases. The law is named Reagan’s Press Secretary, James Brady, who was seriously wounded in the attack.
The same year, Congress passes the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, banning the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons.
The city of New Orleans files suit against gun manufacturers, citing a product liability law that requires companies to keep pace with safety technology.
The FBI-run national instant background check for gun purchases, mandated by the Brady Bill, goes into effect. The information is kept on file for 90 days. Some 160,000 gun purchases are prohibited the first year.
Two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, go on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, killing 12 students and a teacher. The shooting sparks renewed calls for gun control.
President Clinton announces a $15 million federal gun buyback plan in an effort to get guns off the streets.
Maryland passes a law requiring all sidearms to carry child-safety locks and for all new guns to have ballistic fingerprinting.
The federal government announces a plan to give purchasing preference to gun manufacturers who agree to design safer guns. The gun industry claims this is unfair and files suit.
Thousands of mothers and children gather in Washington, DC and cities across the country for the Million Mom March, a demonstration for gun control laws.
The Bush administration ends funding for President Clinton’s gun buyback program.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the FBI asks the Justice Department to cross-check a list of potential terrorist suspects against the records of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to see if any of them had bought guns. US Attorney General John Ashcroft denies the request, claiming that to allow it would be a violation of privacy.
Ashcroft changes the amount of time the background checks are kept on file from 90 days to 24 hours.
Senator Diane Feinstein of California introduces legislation to regulate the sale of .50 caliber sniper rifles. The legislation stalls.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger bans the sale of .50 caliber sniper riles in California.