Bob Dylan is awarded the Presidential medal of Freedom in 2012 by Barack Obama.
Bob Dylan is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 by Barack Obama.

Legendary songwriter and singer Bob Dylan is being sued for racism for making comments in which he seemed to liken Croatians to Nazis and slave owners.

In an interview published in the French edition of Rolling Stone last year Dylan, one of the figureheads of the civil rights movement in the US during the 1960s, was asked how much America had progressed since the Civil War in the 19th century, in which the anti-slavery northern states fought the slave owning southern states.

"This country is just too f***** up about colour. It's a distraction. People at each others' throats just because they are of a different colour. It's the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back - or any neighbourhood back. Or any anything back," said Dylan.

"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," he continued.

The Council of Croats in France claims the comments constitute a racial slur against them, and has launched a lawsuit against Dylan and the magazine.

"It is an incitement to hatred. You cannot compare Croatian criminals to all Croats. But we have nothing against Rolling Stone magazine or Bob Dylan as a singer ", said Vlatko Marić, secretary general of the organisation and member of the Croatian World Congress.

In France, there are greater restrictions on freedom of speech than in the US, and if found guilty Dylan could face a fine.

Only weeks ago the singer was awarded the Legion of Honour, France's highest award. Last year he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

It is believed that it will take authorities 12 to 18 weeks to investigate the alleged offence.

Tensions between Catholic Croats and Christian Orthodox Serbs have existed for decades, and surfaced in the brutal war of the 1990s that caused the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Members of both sides were referred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and two Croatians acquitted.

In the 1940s, tens of thousands of Serbs were killed in concentration camps by the Nazi Germany backed Croatian Ustasha government.

In the Croatian city of Vukovar, which has a Serbian community, there have recently been disputes over bilingual signs put up in Serbian using the Cyrillic script under new minority rights laws.

The town was devastated by Serbian forces who besieged it during the recent conflict, with a thousand Croats losing their lives and 200 wounded and prisoners of war taken to a farm and executed.

Croatian veterans tore down the signs, which were replaced, and a policeman was then arrested for removing one from a municipal building.