Munich’s Haus der Kunst has severed ties with an embattled human resources contractor with ties to Scientology after a German newspaper obtained a leaked letter from staffers complaining about poor treatment and work conditions. The man’s links to Scientology are said to have directly influenced his work.
Scientology is not recognized by the German state as a religion. In general, it is viewed by the government and media alike as an organization that pursues anti-democratic political and economic goals, and is treated with extreme suspicion. The organization is routinely monitored by state intelligence agencies.
Rumors over Scientology’s influence over the institution had been circulating for several years, with staffers filing formal complaints of mistreatment by the contractor in question to the Haus der Kunst board on two separate occasions, in November 2015 and July 2016. The complaints referenced draconian disciplinary practices and extreme working hours imposed by the human resources director, leading to tensions within the staff.
Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst, on March 6, 2015 in Munich, Germany. Courtesy of Joerg Koch/Getty Images.
In a letter addressed to a board member in February 2016, one employee wrote, “I wouldn’t be writing here if the man called Mr. Scientology would only operate privately. The ideology flows directly into his work.” The author went on to allege that the contractor invited three board members to the local Scientology center.
Bavarian parliamentary representative Isabell Zacharias claimed to have “evidence that there might even be significantly more Scientologists in the Haus der Kunst.” She has called for a far-reaching review of recent goings-on within the institution, including during the tenures of Enwezor’s predecessors Chris Dercon and Christoph Vitali.
German news reports portray an institution marred by division between Scientologists recruited by the museum’s former freelance human resources administrator and the rest of the staff.
Meanwhile, the controversy has taken its toll on Enwezor’s relationship to the employee council, which repeatedly alerted the director to the working conditions imposed by the former employee. Addressing staff in a recent meeting, Enwezor told employees, “The workforce is split into several camps and I see it as my task to repair the interrelationships again.”
According to Arnd Diringer, a lawyer cited by DW who has written extensively on Scientology, “If he [the contractor] deliberately hired other Scientologists, then he may of course have violated his responsibilities as a personnel manager… He is of course obliged to hire people impartially.”
On the other hand, Diringer pointed out that if his belief system influenced his management style, “it’ll be interesting to see if using those techniques count as a reason for dismissal.”