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USA/Germany

Artistic Cleansing in Germany


German artists
come to
America in
the face of
government
oppression
By Chris Leedy
Carl Röhrig
In an effort to escape the unrelenting antireligious climate in Germany where he has experienced blacklists and boycotts of his art shows, German artist Carl Röhrig has had to seek new markets in America for his creative work.

 C
arl W. Rohrig has been compared to such surrealist greats as Salvador Dali and Hieronymous Bosch. His work has appeared on the covers of many top German and international magazines. Enjoying tremendous critical and public acclaim throughout his career, he was awarded the Certificate of Merit of the Museum of American Illustration in New York and even acknowledged by the German Federal Minister of the Interior for his “outstanding scientific artwork.”

      Yet for all of his acclaim and celebrity, today the word from many in his homeland is that he and his art are unwelcome. Not because of his art, nor anything he has said or done. It is because of his religious beliefs.

      Well-known as a member of the Church of Scientology, Rohrig found that to continue his work meant he would literally have to leave his home. He did so, moving his family to Denmark. “The false propaganda against both my religion and its members is outrageous,” he said. “The aim is to force Scientologists and other members of minority faiths out of the country, out of their businesses. If you have no money, you cannot be heard and you cannot act.”

      Noting that jazz great Chick Corea has had concert appearances cancelled in Germany because he is a Scientologist and that the movies Mission: Impossible and Phenomenon were both subject to government-sponsored boycotts because actors in those films were also Scientologists, Rohrig suggested that “Politicians do not want it known that Scientologists are bright or capable people. And they especially do not want to have a Scientologist be well-known and well-regarded.”

      Yet he remains determined to speak out and to do something about the conditions in Germany — through his art.

Free Spirits of Germany

      Just weeks after leading nearly 2,000 in a religious freedom march through Frankfurt, Germany, and shortly before leading more than 10,000 in a similar protest in Berlin, actress Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction, Clear and Present Danger) hosted a three-day exhibition in Los Angeles featuring the works of five German artists – including Rohrig. The exhibition, held at the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, came together in part to help these artists seek new markets for their work, appropriately titled “Free Spirits of Germany.”

      “I have first-hand knowledge of the difficulties many of these artists have suffered,” said Archer, expressing her “concern and solidarity with these fellow artists in Germany. These free spirits continue to display their art to the world no matter the obstacles and despite the fact that they do not always enjoy the freedoms of thought and expression that we as Americans accept as basic.”

      Acclaimed photographer and Hollywood Arts Council Trustee Pasqual Bettio, who helped Archer introduce the exhibition, said when he learned of the discrimination being suffered by artists in Germany, he contacted many of his friends in the arts who, in turn, similarly wanted to express their solidarity. Various Los Angeles-based artists are now planning their own art show in Germany to protest what is happening there. “Art is a ground we can all meet on,” he said. “The real issue here is freedom.”

      And the denial of that freedom — both of expression and of religion — is precisely the issue on which the artists affected hope to see a swift resolution.

      “I want the truth to be known.”

Box of condoms
The skull and crossbones image was exploited by the Christian Democratic Union in cover art for boxes of condoms promoted as “90 percent effective” in “preventing” future Scientologists.

Art in Reverse

      The issue of art in the discrimination which pervades modern-day Germany also has flip side: German officials use art as a weapon to spread false propaganda — not only about Scientology, but any other religion or belief deemed “wrong.”

      In a paper entitled “Art As Propaganda Against Jews and Scientologists in Germany: Echoes of the Past Reverberate in the Present,” Dr. Stephen C. Feinstein, authority on European history and art and chairman of the history department at the University of Wisconsin, published his observations on current German attacks on minority religions, including Scientology.

      “Many of the attacks and representations of Scientology bear more than a slight resemblance to the misuse of art... in the anti-Semitic campaigns against the Jews,” writes Feinstein. “In contemporary Germany, the attack on Scientology has a crusade-like mentality associated with images intended to demonize and destroy, in a way not clearly delineated. ... One need not seek a consistent logic or message in this attempt to demonize. None exists.”

      Yet however reprehensible the role of German media in spreading intolerance, none of the propaganda art currently distributed in Germany is as virulent as that produced by members of Chancellor Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union.

A letter to the Church of Scientology in Hamburg
Above: A letter to the Church of Scientology in Hamburg purported to be from the “Propaganda Ministry Berlin – SS State Protection Department.” Beneath the Nazi eagle and swastika, its authors threaten they will be taking “sizeable measures” against the Church.

      At a CDU convention in 1993, party Secretary General and Christian theologian Peter Hintze released a booklet called InSekten — Nein Danke, later distributed throughout Germany. The title was a play on the word “Sekten,” meaning religious sects. The cover art portrays members of minority religions as insects to be crushed by a strong hand wielding a fly swatter. Stickers bearing the same image were available by mail order from party headquarters in Bonn.

      The “art” inside the booklet included images such as a skull and crossbones surrounded by the words “Scientology,” “ugly” and “poison.” Those in the CDU responsible for this creation then took it one step further: The same skull and crossbones image was used as the cover art for boxes of condoms promoted as “90% effective” in “preventing” future Scientologists.

      CDU officials today persist in their assertions that there is no evidence of religious intolerance in Germany. If their own propaganda literature is not enough to put the lie to such claims, even more blatant evidence can be found in other material which has been anonymously distributed. A letter sent to the Church of Scientology in Hamburg purported to be from the “Propaganda Ministry Berlin — SS State Protection Department.” Beneath the Nazi eagle and swastika its authors threaten they will be taking “sizeable measures” against the Church.

      The situation faced by Scientologists is shocking in other respects. German businessmen, teachers, students, athletes — indeed, people in almost any walk of life — know that they risk losing their job, their business or their rights solely because of their religion. Many already have. And Scientologists aren’t alone. It has been estimated that some 100 million DM is spent annually to fund attacks on minority groups in the media and through the government. That money supports, among other things, a large network of government officials paid with state funds — “anti-sect commissioners” — and select priests and clergy who are their counterparts. These officials forward government propaganda attacks on those singled out for ostracism, which have included Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Any organization which supports values or beliefs different from the German status quo — not just religious and ethnic minorities — can expect to be deemed “enemies.”

Artist and Holocaust survivor Perli Pelzig
Artist and Holocaust survivor Perli Pelzig (left) welcomes other exhibiting artists from Germany and guests to the opening of the “Free Spirits of Germany” exhibition, hosted by actress Anne Archer (right).

Growing Concern

      Such events and conditions have prompted concern and outrage from many U.S. Congressmen and officials including U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) of the Congressional Arts Caucus, who urged the State Department to make the “plight of American and German Scientologists in the Federal Republic of Germany” a top priority for the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. “A particularly disturbing trend is the pattern and practice of discrimination against artists, particularly American artists who happen to be Scientologists. ...[T]he German government has been a willing and active participant in the creation of an atmosphere of intolerance.”

      Dr. Feinstein’s view is that the growing pattern of events in today’s Germany can only be compared to the beginnings of a far darker period more than 60 years ago. “The last great group of alleged ‘demons’ that were perceived as a threat to German society, the Jews, wound up being exterminated, along with millions of their co-religionists in neighboring countries....

      “While many critics see such comparisons as either foolish or obscene, the issue nevertheless persists. The failure of many in Germany, including officials, to restrain unconstitutional acts against Scientology, has created a hate campaign with ominous overtones.”

      Artist and Holocaust survivor Perli Pelzig, a German Jew now living in the United States, sees things similarly — but from the perspective of personal experience: “I am amazed that after 50 years it is possible to find in Germany people who have not learned to tolerate those whose beliefs and views differ from the ‘mainstream’ and who, because of their beliefs, are branded and become a target for professional and personal discrimination.

      “The time has come for all to follow the old slogan of ‘Live and let live!’”


WHAT YOU CAN DO

      If you are concerned about human rights violations in Germany, make your voice heard. Write to GERMANY HATEWATCH, 1701 20th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.

      Or send e-mail to: Germany@freedommag.org.

      For more information call (202) 667-6404 or write to the above address. If on the Internet, visit http://www.humanrights-germany.org

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