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Scientologists 'infiltrate Munich art gallery'

March 3, 2017

One of Munich's most important art galleries may have been undermined by the Church of Scientology. Leaked documents suggest a Scientologist personnel manager applied psychological pressure on workers.

Scientology building in Berlin (Photo: MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Bavaria's domestic intelligence agency - known as the Verfassungsschutz, or Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution -  has been set to work investigating whether the Church of Scientology has infiltrated one of Munich's most important art galleries.

Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst, which describes itself as one of the world's leading centers for contemporary art, terminated a contract with an external personnel manager earlier this week after a string of complaints about his behavior and ties to the Church of Scientology.

In a letter sent to the gallery's employees, and leaked to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung," Enwezor said that the decision had been made following consultation with legal advisors.

Rumors of the Scientology influence on the gallery had reportedly been accumulating among staff, causing an atmosphere of suspicion that was demoralizing members, the newspaper reported.

Enwezor also called a staff meeting on Thursday to address the issue, taking particular care to invite part-time staff members who had the closest interaction with the dismissed man, who has not been named.

Haus Der Kunst in München
The Haus der Kunst is one of Germany's most important contemporary art galleriesImage: picture alliance/Paul Mayall

Recruitment and psychological pressure

At least one other member of the gallery's supervisory committee is thought to have attempted to recruit colleagues, and state parliamentarian Isabell Zacharias claims there is "evidence that there might even be significantly more Scientologists in the Haus der Kunst." The Social Democrat MP is now demanding that the Bavarian Culture Ministry, which oversees state art galleries, investigate the entire management of the gallery, as well as that of its last two directors.

The SZ also published excerpts from several written complaints about the personnel manager from staff members, alleging that he had exerted "great psychological pressure." One employee wrote to the supervisory board in February 2016: "I wouldn't be writing here if the man called Mr. Scientology would only operate privately. The ideology flows directly into his work," before alleging that the manager had invited three board members to a nearby Scientology center.

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The man began working as a freelance accountant at the Haus der Kunst in 1995, gradually gathering more and more responsibility over the years - including the power to hire staff and draw up shift plans.

This makes the affair "the most interesting Scientology case we've had so far in Germany," according to Arnd Diringer, a lawyer who has written extensively about the Church in Germany. Should the manager contest his termination in court, Diringer thinks the legal ramifications could expose all of the state's long-running problems with Scientology.

"If he deliberately hired other Scientologists, then he may of course have violated his responsibilities as a personnel manager," he told DW. "He is of course obliged to hire people impartially." But Diringer had another concern - what if the man used Scientology-based management techniques for the job? "Then it'll be interesting to see if using those techniques count as a reason for dismissal," he added.

Ron Lafayette Hubbard
L Ron Hubbard wrote thousands of texts on almost every aspect of life - including work managementImage: dpa

Scientology - a threat to the state?

In the past, legal cases involving Scientology in Germany have tended to be settled out of court, precisely to avoid carrying out such conflicts in public. But the Church has always been under much heavier pressure in Germany than elsewhere.

Along with right- and left-wing extremists, Islamists, and other potential "threats to the constitution," the Church of Scientology is one of the organizations that Germany's domestic intelligence agencies keep tabs on (it first came under surveillance 20 years ago). Since 1996, Scientologists must declare their membership of the Church when applying for public positions.

Germany's intelligence agencies are fairly unique in considering that the Church of Scientology has a political dimension. In its most recent annual report, the Bavarian Verfassungsschutz says the Church "uses psycho-technologies and the unconditional subjugation of the individual to replace the principle of democracy and basic rights with a totalitarian system of rule under Scientologist leadership."

The agency also claims the Church is out to influence the "state, politics, and the economy in order to subject them to Scientologist aims." 

This is only half true, according to Diringer. "The aim is to have as many Scientologists as possible, and to put Scientologists into positions where they can spread the ideology," he said. "And the more they do that, the more they can change the state from within." But this makes it little different from most religions: "Like every ideology, it tries to broadcast itself."

Germany's Church of Scientology did not respond to a request for comment.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight