Bob Dylan is being sued by a Croatian community group in France on charges of racism for remarks that appeared in Rolling Stone, according to Business Insider.
Dylan, who was among a coterie of folk-rock artists involved in the civil rights movement, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012. The medal is the country’s highest civilian honor.
He made the comments in question in the September issue of Rolling Stone, in response to a query about whether he sees parallels between Civil War-era America and today:
“Mmm, I don’t know how to put it. It’s like … the United States burned and destroyed itself for the sake of slavery. The USA wouldn’t give it up. It had to be grinded out. The whole system had to be ripped out with force. A lot of killing. What, like, 500,000 people? A lot of destruction to end slavery. And that’s what it really was all about.
“This country is just too f—-d up about color. It’s a distraction. People at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color. It’s the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back—or any neighborhood back. Or any anything back. 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. 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.”
The last sentence is what landed Dylan, who earlier this month was awarded the French Legion of Honor, in hot water. He was referring to the entrenched feud between majority Roman Catholic Croats and Christian Orthodox Serbs, Business Insider says.
In October, unknown assailants destroyed several bilingual and Cyrillic signs placed on state buildings and Serb minority institutions in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, according to Balkan Insight. “Bilingual signs have been installed on state buildings in areas where Serbs make up more than a third of the population—a requirement under the minorities legislation—but the move sparked protests by war veterans in the city of Vukovar which was devastated by Serb forces during the 1990s conflict,” the site reported.
Free speech in Europe is much stricter than in the U.S. The suit, also filed against the French version of Rolling Stone, has been accepted on formal grounds, but still has to be reviewed on its merits. It could take up to 18 months to decide, or even longer when the counter-party is not a French citizen.