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Bob Dylan investigated, suspected of inciting hatred with Croatia remark

From Sandrine Amiel, CNN
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 1934 GMT (0334 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Croatian group would be willing to drop charges if Dylan publicly apologizes, lawyer says
  • Iconic singer Bob Dylan is accused of likening the Croatian people to Nazis
  • The remarks were quoted in an interview for the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine
  • The complaint was brought by a body representing Croatians in France

Paris (CNN) -- Bob Dylan is being investigated on suspicion of inciting hatred in Paris over comments he made in Rolling Stone magazine, French prosecutors said Tuesday.

An organization representing Croatians in France pressed charges against Dylan for allegedly comparing the conflict between Croatians and Serbs to the Nazis' persecution of Jews in an interview last year for the French edition of Rolling Stone.

"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 influential singer-songwriter was quoted as saying.

While a Croatian group has said Dylan was referencing the violence that came with the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, it's unclear whether the long-outspoken musician was referring to Yugoslavia or the crimes committed when the Ustasha ruled Croatia during World War II.

The Paris prosecutor's office said Dylan was placed under formal investigation last month by the Paris Main Court for "public injury" and "incitement to hatred."

Vlatko Maric, secretary general of the Representative Council of the Croatian Community and Institutions, told CNN his organization had brought the case almost a year ago.

Bob Dylan smokes a cigarette circa 1966. Dylan's music spoke to a generation of people during the 1960s, a tumultuous decade that forever changed America. He went on to become a rock 'n' roll legend and influence many musicians to come. Bob Dylan smokes a cigarette circa 1966. Dylan's music spoke to a generation of people during the 1960s, a tumultuous decade that forever changed America. He went on to become a rock 'n' roll legend and influence many musicians to come.
Bob Dylan through the years
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Photos: Bob Dylan: Voice of a generation Photos: Bob Dylan: Voice of a generation

Explaining the council's decision to pursue the case against Dylan, Maric said the artist's remarks in Rolling Stone were of a "rare violence" that had deeply shocked people from a nation still wounded by the conflict of the 1990s.

"An entire people is being compared to criminal organizations" like the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, he said. "The Croatians are peaceful people who respect Bob Dylan as an artist, but we must remind him that he can't make such remarks.

"We have nothing against him, but the Croatians do not want to be insulted."

Lawyer: We'd like a public apology

A lawyer for the Croatian organization told CNN on Tuesday that his clients would be willing to drop the charges if Dylan publicly apologized for his remarks.

"An apology is a better repair than a financial compensation," Ivan Jurasinovic said, adding that this would be a far more positive outcome for everyone.

"Bob Dylan is someone who is very much admired in Croatia," he said.

Asked if his clients had already contacted Dylan to request an apology, he said that the process was "ongoing" and that "they hoped something could be arranged."

Representatives of Dylan and Rolling Stone have not yet responded to requests for comment.

Dylan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012, just one of many accolades to come the musician's way during half a century in the public eye. He was also named an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters this year.

Bloody conflicts

Between 1941 and 1945, Croatia's Ustasha erected numerous concentration camps "to isolate and murder Jews, Serbs, Roma (also known as Gypsies), and other non-Catholic minorities, as well as Croatian political and religious opponents of the regime," according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Croat authorities murdered an estimated 320,000 to 340,000 ethnic Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia under Ustasha rule, the museum says.

Decades later, the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s caused the bloodiest conflict on the European continent since World War II, with more than 100,000 people believed killed.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a U.N.-backed court, continues to prosecute war crimes committed during that time.

The tribunal has said "the most significant number" of its cases have dealt with alleged crimes by Serbians or Bosnian Serbs. But there have been convictions for crimes against Serbs by others, including Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians.

CNN's Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.

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