I was in Yugoslavia - the old Peoples' Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia - in November, 1963. I had just got back to Belgrade from a long trip, on the 22nd. My friend Nada and her family lived right in the center. Their flat was very cosy; the big tiled stove had been lit and Nada was hemming a skirt, ready for a party on Saturday. But in a few hours we heard that Kennedy had been shot and everything came to a halt.
Saturday was a national day of mourning. All entertainment was banned: only solemn music on the television and radio. The mother of Nada's friend cancelled the party. The American reading room was not far away and we saw people gathering in silence outside in the cold, some in tears, some taking flowers inside. In the trams that passed we saw Belgraders sitting stone faced and silent. People were crying in the street. And Nada cried. Nada who had survived the German occupation of Belgrade, everything, who always vowed she would never cry. But she said, chin up, she was crying because she was angry. And she said what many Yugoslavs were saying then: "There is too much violence in America!"
I was in Yugoslavia five years later, this time teaching down in Kosovo, southern Serbia, much to the dismay of my Belgrade friends for whom Kosovo was the wild west. A wild west full of Albanian moslems. I was in my little lector's flat, getting ready for class when three of my fourth year students came to the door. One of them, Mark, was crying. This was something I'd never seen. Kosovo was called the wild west for a reason. This was where the blood feud still existed, where every self-respecting Albanian male was supposed to own a gun or at least a knife. The other two students asked if they could all come in for a moment, apologising. Mark, they explained, just wanted to pay his respects. They were both moslem but Mark was from a catholic Albanian tribe; you could tell that from his name. And Mark, they told me, had just heard that Robert Kennedy had been killed.