Paris (AFP) – Bob Dylan is being asked to apologize for remarks he made in an interview that have ran afoul of French anti-racism laws.
The legendary American singer has been charged with inciting hatred by Paris prosecutors after comments made to Rolling Stone magazine last year sparked a complaint from the Council of Croats in France (CRICCF).
“If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood,” Dylan was quoted as saying in the context of an answer about race relations in the United States.
Dylan, 72, was informed of the charges against him last month, while he was in Paris for three concerts — a visit during which the French government also awarded him its prestigious Legion d’Honneur decoration.
Although the CRICCF’s formal complaint triggered automatic charges under French law, the ‘mise en examen’ or judicial probe, does not necessarily mean the matter will end up in court. It establishes a prima facie case that an investigating magistrate is required to look into, and the charges can either be pursued or dismissed.
The CRICCF said Tuesday said it was not looking for a conviction of the high-profile singer, and would regard a public apology as more valuable.
“We hope he will apologize and we are ready to accept an apology,” Ivan Jurasinovic, the CRICCF’s lawyer, said.
“A conviction will not repair the damage as much as an apology will.”
Dylan has not commented on the charges and a representative of his label claimed to be unaware of the proceedings against the star.
French media law bars incitement to “discrimination, hatred or violence with regard to a person or group of people on the grounds of their origin or of their membership or non-membership of an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a religion”.
In his Rolling Stone interview, Dylan — whose songs have often been used as anthems by left-wing and civil rights movements — described race relations in the United States as fraught.
“This country is just too fucked up about color…. People at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color,” he was quoted as saying.
“Blacks know that some whites didn’t want to give up slavery — that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can’t pretend they don’t know that.”
He then made the comment that included the reference to Serbs and “Croatian blood”.
Croatians sensitive to remarks
Ethnic Croats and Serbs fought viciously in the 1991-1995 war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Some 20,000 people died.
Today, Croatians remain highly sensitive when mentioned in a Nazi-related context.
Their previous stab at statehood came during World War II with the so-called Independent State of Croatia. The Nazi-allied Ustasha regime killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians in their death camps.
Since Croatia declared independence in 1991, some groups have attempted to rehabilitate aspects of the Ustasha regime. Supporters are sometimes seen in football stadiums giving the Nazi salute.
Last month FIFA launched a probe against international defender Josip Simunic for appearing to lead fans into Ustasha-era chants after his team qualified for the World Cup.
Dylan, who played back-to-back concerts in Serbia and Croatia in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1960s partly for his support of the U.S. civil rights movement.
Barack Obama, the first black president in the United States, last year awarded Dylan America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying: “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”
The musician is deeply respected in France, too.
He picked up the Legion d’Honneur on the recommendation of Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti.
The award can be granted to any foreigner seen as having served France’s interests or upholding its values.