- The Washington Post
- Publishers Weekly
June 13, 2004
Stacy Sullivan, who covered the Balkans for Newsweek,
has pulled off an improbable feat. She has written an irresistibly
readable book about the grim war in Kosovo, a conflict obscure
to many Americans, even during the 78 days in 1999 when the United
States was pounding the place with bombs. Sullivan has found an
original way to cut through the Balkan fog—the murk of Ottoman
history, the unfamiliar names and places, the unsympathetic viciousness
of all ethnic groups in the many wars that ripped Yugoslavia apart.
Her narrative knife is a guy from Brooklyn.
His name is Florin Krasniqi. He's an immigrant from Kosovo and
an American success story. Arriving in Brooklyn with nine words
of English, he became a roofing contractor and before long was
taking home $100,000 a year. In the way of many smart guys from
Brooklyn, he was persuasive, creative and, if need be, ruthless.
In the way of many ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, he believed that
forcing Serbs out of his homeland was an end that justified any
From Brooklyn, Krasniqi tapped fellow Albanian immigrants for
$30 million to fund the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). He shopped
American to outfit the insurgents with everything from satellite
telephones to .50 caliber sniper rifles. These weapons, with a
range of two miles and enough power to punch through armored vehicles,
were available to anyone with $7,000, no questions
asked. Krasniqi told Sullivan he couldn't believe how lax American
gun laws are. He found much of what he needed for guerrilla war
right around the corner in Brooklyn. He bought walkie-talkies
from a Radio Shack in Kings Plaza mall off Flatbush Avenue.
With this guy from Brooklyn grounding her readers in a known American
place, Sullivan is able to tell a war story that never seems remote,
even though most Americans would be hard pressed to find Kosovo
on a map. The narrative is so strong that you hardly notice that
Sullivan's book is deeply
serious, historically sophisticated and morally complex. Her protagonist
is not a good guy. She suggests—without saying so outright—that
Krasniqi murdered an Albanian hoodlum who had killed a key leader
of the KLA. She shows again and again how Krasniqi sacrificed
his business, his family, his village and thousands of innocent
civilians across Kosovo for the sake of defeating Serbs.
A hero framed in black is a good choice, and not just because
Krasniqi is such an irresistible character. For as Sullivan well
knows, there were few good guys in the Kosovo war, the fourth
of four Yugoslav wars that Slobodan Milosevic fomented and lost
in his decade of bloody misrule.
Milosevic had risen to power in Serbia—and escaped the fate
of other communist hacks in Eastern Europe—by fanning ethnic
hatred. There was no greater such hatred than that between Serbs
and Albanians. History had yoked them together in the Yugoslav
federation, with Kosovo a province inside the republic of Serbia.
Serbs regarded Kosovo as their historical homeland, but on the
ground in the province, Albanians outnumbered them nine to one.
Albanians had long taken pride in harassing Serbs, forcing them
to sell out and flee next door to Serbia.
Milosevic figured out that avenging Serb resentment over this
harassment would cement his power. So he assured Serbs that Albanians
would never beat them again. To that end, he created a brutal
police state inside Kosovo that bullied and murdered Albanians.
That, in turn, set off bullying and
murderous retaliation by Albanians who slowly coalesced into the
KLA. Sullivan tells this messy story as clearly and succinctly
as it can be told. She also explains—in a fresh and fascinating
way—how Krasniqi and the KLA sucked the United States and
NATO into their nasty war. It was the most cynical and savage
of public relations tricks. As Sullivan explains it, the KLA attacked
and killed Serbian military and police, knowing full well that
Milosevic would retaliate in a way that would nauseate the West.
And sure enough, it worked. Serb forces cut throats, gutted pregnant
women, mashed the skulls of old men. The United States and Europe,
guilty about their sluggish response to Milosevic's war crimes
in Bosnia, could not stomach it and quickly threatened to bomb,
just as the KLA had hoped.
Milosevic refused to back down, bombs fell, and Serbia lost the
war. Before being forced out, Serb forces managed to destroy much
of Kosovo and kill an
estimated 10,000 people. Albanians then committed numerous revenge
killings. Milosevic is gone, but the status of Kosovo is unresolved.
ill-governed and restive, it is still part of Serbia. And it has
been all but forgotten by a world obsessed with terrorism and
Iraq. The Balkans, though, have an enduringly toxic way of causing
trouble that cannot be ignored. With the help of the guy from
Brooklyn, Sullivan's engaging book
May 31, 2004
The Kosovo Liberation Army was sparked and sustained
by a roof contractor in Brooklyn who personally bought and shipped
arms, massively fund-raised and provided ideological and tactical
support to the fledgling guerrilla force. Sullivan, who covered
the Balkans in the '90s for Newsweek, mixes reportage
(sometimes reconstructed) of the insurgent group's battles with
Milosevic's Serb forces after Yugoslavia's disintegration with
the KLA's improbable U.S.-based, backstory, gleaned after the
conflict was messily resolved by a U.N.-led coalition (commanded
by Wesley Clark). She is terrific in detailing the life of Florin
Krasniqi, a Kosovar Albanian who emigrated illegally to the U.S.
via Mexico in 1988, and took it upon himself to get the KLA off
the ground once Milosevic's intentions (and the inefficacy of
nonviolent resistance) became clear to him. Anecdotes of buying
assault weapons at gun shows and taking them to Albania on conventional
flights, of shopping for Stinger missiles in Pakistan and of the
Muslim Krasniqi getting a great price on uniforms from Brooklyn
Hasidim are as funny as they are unsettling. Snappily written
with a keen eye for telling personal tics and crushing political
ironies, Sullivan's book reveals that this crucial, underreported
event of the late '90s was more multilateral than anyone imagined.
"With her remarkable tales of gun-running,
intrigue, high politics, and murder, Sullivan has given us a work
of contemporary history that reads more like a crime thriller.
She has also offered a disturbing glimpse behind the scenes of
one of the only wars ever waged on humanitarian grounds."
— Samantha Power, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A
Problem From Hell
"Stacy Sullivan chronicles the awful machinery
of war, the high idealism and base cynicism, the brutal politics
and utopian visions, which propel young men into battlefields
and often leaves them broken and scarred. She captures, through
her dogged reporting, the dark and frightening labyrinth of war."
— Chris Hedges, author of War
Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning
"Be Not Afraid'” is a war reporting tour
de force – tough, thorough, and gut-wrenching. In the tradition
of Anthony Lukas’ “Common Ground” Stacy Sullivan
gives us an unforgettable character – the avenging Brooklyn
emigre Florin Krasniqi – to capture the full emotional toll
of a brutal war we only thought we understood. —
Todd Balf, author of The New York Times bestseller
The Last River and The Darkest Jungle