In Pursuing Bob Dylan for Hate Speech, Croatian Group Denies Holocaust

Controversy Over Odd Interview Sheds Light on Old Atrocities

Where Men Bathe in Perfume and Celebrate Free Speech: Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, is being investigated for engaging in hate speech.
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Where Men Bathe in Perfume and Celebrate Free Speech: Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, is being investigated for engaging in hate speech.

By Jay Michaelson

Published December 05, 2013, issue of December 13, 2013.
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And then there’s the comparison that, according to a French-Croatian group, is hate speech: that as blacks are to ex-slaveholders, Jews are to ex-Nazis, and Serbs are to Croats.

Probably, Dylan will quickly apologize for this analogy – which is all the group, the Representative Council of Croat Institutions of France, is actually asking for. But in fact, it’s the RCCIF that is evading the truth.

Incredibly, the organization is alleging that Dylan is referring to the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But this is obviously not the case. What Dylan is surely referring to is the genocide against Serbs perpetrated by the Croatian Revolutionary Movement, or Ustasha, in the 1940s. From 1941-1945, the Ustasha set up a system of concentration camp, murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma, and others. The Ustasha were fascists, allies of the Nazis and of Mussolini. At least 300,000 ethnic Serbs were murdered during this period.

Amazingly, even the Nazis were shocked at the Ustasha’s brutality – according to one source, a report given to Heinrich Himmler described victims as “sadistically tortured to death” in a “bestial manner.”

Obviously, that is what Dylan was referring to in his remarks: a genocide, on par (in quality, if not in scale) with the Nazi genocide against the Jews and the enslavement of Africans by white Americans. To imagine that Dylan was referring to the 1990s is ludicrous. It is so ludicrous, in fact, as to invite one to wonder what the RCCIF could possibly be thinking. Or refusing to think.

Now, Dylan did over-generalize. Notice that he didn’t say “whites” and “Germans”; he said “slaveholders” and “Nazis.” But he did say “Croatians.” In this slip, he did indeed cast aspersions on all Croats, as opposed to those who supported the Ustasha. And so some apology is warranted.

On the other hand, how many of us even know the word “Ustasha”? Dylan was searching for examples of historical memory, and he mentioned two of them. He should have been more specific. But it’s impressive that, in whatever altered state he seemed to have been during the interview, he remembered the Serbian genocide at all.

Under French hate-speech law, it is a crime to incite violence against any group: Jews, Muslims, French Nationalists, anyone. But all Dylan said is that victims of historical genocide remember the past, and perhaps can ‘sense’ it in the descendants of the perpetrators.

Surely many Jews can appreciate this comment. How many of us still won’t drive German cars? Or feel vaguely uneasy when we hear people shouting in German. I have German friends, and yet I still can feel that way, particularly when I’m in Germany itself. The past casts a shadow.

And indeed, the same is true for Serbs. I remember how a Serbian-American friend recounted the history of the genocide when I confronted him about Serbia’s own ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. Serbs, like everyone else, remember.

Indeed, it seems the only ones who choose not to remember is the French Croatian council. By falsely accusing an icon, they have shined a harsh light on their own selective amnesia.

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor for the Forward.


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