Paris - Bob Dylan was urged Tuesday to apologise for comparing Croats to Nazis in comments which have led to him being charged in France for inciting hatred.
The legendary American singer was charged with the offence during a visit to Paris last month 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 an answer to a question about race relations in the United States.
Dylan, 72, was informed of the charges while he was in Paris for three concerts Ä a visit during which the French government also awarded him its prestigious Legion d'Honneur.
The CRICCF said Tuesday said it wants the singer to make a public apology.
“We hope he will apologise 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.”
But even if Dylan were to apologise and the CRICCF withdrew its complaint, the singer could still be taken to court.
The charge against him carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of up to 45,000 euros, although in practice penalties are usually far smaller, sometimes only symbolic, in such cases.
Dylan has not commented on the charges and a representative of his label claimed to be unaware of the proceedings against the star.
In his Rolling Stone interview, Dylan, a veteran supporter of the US civil rights movement, described race relations in the United States as fraught.
“This country is just too fucked up about colour.... People at each other's throats just because they are of a different colour,” 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”.
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.
Croatia's foreign ministry declined to comment Tuesday on Dylan's reported comments.
But Zvonimir Bucevic of Croatia's Musicians' Union, told AFP that Dylan's apparent “generalisation” about all Croat people was unacceptable.
“I want to believe that he has made a mistake. If he said that an ethnic Serb can sense an Ustasha, it could be accepted in the context in which it was said for Jews and Nazis,” Bucevic said.