Bob Dylan Sued By Croatian Group For Comments Made About America's Slavery Past

11/30/2013 04:52 pm ET
FRED TANNEAU via Getty Images

Bob Dylan has stirred up a deep-set racial conflict with comments he made earlier this year in the French edition of Rolling Stone.

The 72-year-old folk-rock icon, who was awarded the French Legion of Honor earlier this month, was discussing America's history with slavery when he made a comment that has reportedly riled up a Croatian community group.

When asked about parallels he sees between Civil War-era America and today, Dylan told the magazine:

"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--ked-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."

It's those last few words that caused the stir. Harking back to centuries-old religious conflict between the majority Roman Catholic Croats and the Christian Orthodox Serbs as well as further rivalry that sprang up during World War II, Dylan referenced the bad relations that exist between the two groups. Amid lingering memories of the Croatian War of Independence that lasted from 1991 to 1995, the France-based Croatian community group in question has brought a lawsuit after finding Dylan's comments unsettling.

Europe's free-speech laws are stricter than those in the U.S., and the suit will move on to the next stages. Slate reports that it could take up to 18 months to settle, and if Dylan is found guilty, he may face a fine and formal sanction.

With America's First Amendment rights, it can be hard to see how a comment like this would generate litigation, especially for a musician who instantly became known as a champion of the civil rights movement. Anthems like "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" were synonymous with anti-war sentiments and the free-love iconoclasm that arose during the 1960s.

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