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The past that haunts again

[Picture] International outrage increases over officially sanctioned intolerance in Germany

''There is no prejudice here.''The allegations have no basis.”

     “Nobody is discriminated against because of his religion here.”

     If you are a German government official or spokesman—Labour Minister Norbert Blüm, Member of Parliament Johannes Gerster or even Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel—the statements above are part and parcel of your daily discourse. Long ago, the facts and the evidence ceased to be relevant. Why bother to look?

     But if you are one of many human rights watchdogs or a non-German government official wary of abuses abroad, the words—and actions—are very different.

     The arrogance and dismissals of German officials have not kept the rest of the world from learning the real score and taking action. And the results are becoming increasingly embarrassing for all of Germany.

     The U.S. State Department strongly censured Germany’s mistreatment of Scientologists and other minorities in its 1996 Country Human Rights Report on Germany—the fourth consecutive year it has done so. (See “U.S. State Department Lambasts Germany,” .)

     But this is only the latest event in what should rightly be seen as an international trend.

     Open Letter

     Millions throughout Britain and Europe heard about the contents of the International Herald Tribune on January 9.

     In a full page “open letter” to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, 34 leaders in the entertainment industry joined in a strongly worded condemnation of political discrimination against Scientologists in Germany, comparing the current human rights violations to the abuses of the Nazis during the 1930s.

[Picture]      Listing specific acts of intolerance and human rights abuses, the letter created a firestorm of criticism over human rights abuses around the world. Yet nothing proved the comparison with earlier German history as finely as the Chancellor’s own response.

     After describing the letter as “rubbish” from people who do not understand Germany, Kohl admitted that he had not read it, did not intend to read it, did not know who had signed it, did not care, and was not going to respond anyway.

     Rubbish? Had Mr. Kohl forgotten that it was the CDU Young Union who attempted to organise a boycott of two major Hollywood films in 1996, solely because of the religion of their actors? Had he just “not bothered to read” reports about CDU officials leaping onto the stage and disrupting a folk music concert when they found out the performers happened to be Scientologists? Is it really any wonder that other artists would want to express their protest against such boycotts?

     Mr. Kohl’s “response” also ignored the fact that it was no less than CDU party Secretary General Peter Hintze who released the booklet called InSekten ­ Nein Danke at a 1993 party convention. The booklet’s cover art portrays members of minority religions as insects being exterminated by a strong hand wielding a fly swatter. Stickers bearing the same image were available by mail order from party headquarters in Bonn.

     Whether or not Mr. Kohl understands why foreigners are shocked when his political party authorises art suggesting the extermination of minorities, is it really any surprise that the authors of the open letter compared these actions with earlier times in history?

     Ironically, Kohl’s attitude towards the letter was virtually a reenactment of the response of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels when confronted with complaints of Jewish persecution. Goebbels shrugged off the details and dismissed the reports as “atrocity tales with no foundation.”

     “The 1930s was one of the blackest periods of world history,” said Reverend Heber C. Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International. “I can understand Chancellor Kohl’s reluctance to being reminded of it. But his response to the open letter was typical of all the officials we have sought dialogue with. They won’t agree to sit down and discuss the problems and they refuse to look at unassailable evidence. Meanwhile, many religious groups are being persecuted in Germany as a matter of CDU party policy. We are the most prominent because we are the most successful and because we do not bow down to injustice. If German officials don’t like the comparisons to the 1930s, they should stop acting like Nazis. We are, and always have been, ready to talk,” he said.

     But Kohl was not the only politician to respond arrogantly to the open letter. Others tried to discredit it by twisting its message—saying that comparisons with gas chambers and death camps were wrong.

     The dishonesty in those responses was exposed by Bert Fields, the renowned Los Angeles entertainment lawyer and author of the letter, who pointed out that this was a distortion of what the open letter actually said:

     “Even though they use a lot of terms like ‘rubbish,’” said Fields, “not one single fact is stated denying the factual allegations in our letter. They can’t deny them because they are true.

     “They’re just politicians spouting the party line. No one has compared this to Auschwitz. We’re talking about what happened to Jews in the early part of the Nazi regime, when they were barred from public life. That’s just the kind of thing that is happening to Scientologists today. We’re not saying they’re sending people to death camps; we’re saying let’s not get it started.”

[Picture]      Immature, Insecure and Paranoid

     Of all the responses to the open letter, nothing destroyed the CDU’s credibility as much as remarks made to the international media by CDU MP Johannes Gerster. Foreigners were welcome to visit Germany and see for themselves that there is no discrimination, he said.

     Gerster apparently “forgot” that people outside Germany are well aware that such visits have already occurred. A British delegation led by two members of the House of Lords, for example, interviewed representatives of 17 minority groups in Germany in 1996. The Committee’s report says its members were “astonished” by the “sheer scale of prejudice, discrimination and even persecution which our witnesses recounted.” David Rosser-Owen, one of the British delegation, said “What we encountered was profoundly disturbing. Although Germany is definitely a plural democracy, it is nevertheless one that is immature, and profoundly insecure, if not actually paranoid.”

     Gerster’s comments also ignore the real discrimination suffered by Scientologists in the workforce. Throughout the country, German citizens have been dismissed or subjected to discriminatory employment practices solely because of their religious beliefs.

     In one high profile case, the trainer of the German Olympic fencing team was suddenly fired after a long and successful career simply because it was found out that he had read a Scientology book available in libraries and bookstores around the world. The letter he received from his employer clearly stated that his dismissal had nothing to do with his work record, which was excellent, but because he “had failed to disassociate himself from the contents and goals of Scientology.” (See “Escape to Safer Shores,”.)

     Prejudice Confirmed

     Before inviting more visitors to witness Germany at its worst, Gerster should read the report of the British delegation and listen to some of the others who have already investigated the situation:

  • For the last 3 years, the United Nations has condemned Germany for human rights violations, specifically referring to discrimination against Scientologists. The UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance has announced that he will personally conduct a fact-finding mission to Germany in the second half of 1997.


  • The Helsinki Commission, a human rights watchdog organisation, has issued repeated reports criticising German government treatment of Scientologists.


  • The United States State Department raised human rights abuses against Scientologists in Germany in its 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 annual reports. The State Department again voiced its concerns after the publication of the open letter to Chancellor Kohl. “We believe that the members of the Church of Scientology have a right to practice their religion in Germany and in all other countries,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

         Devoid of Facts

         The response of German politicians to these objective investigations and criticisms was, of course, the same as their response to the open letter: refusal to consider the evidence and angry outbursts. The reason for this is little known in Germany because the media there is part of the problem. But consider the following:

  • Since 1980, 158 unfounded criminal and penal complaints have been brought against the Church of Scientology and Scientologists. Every investigation has confirmed the same thing: No criminal activity was found and every one of the complaints was dismissed. This incessant and outrageous number of investigations clearly demonstrates a government policy to harass the Church.

  • Thirty-six local and regional German courts have held that Scientology is a bona fide religion, and thus eligible for protection under the Constitution.

  • Courts and government agencies in sixty-seven countries, including Australia, Canada, the United States, Austria and Holland, have concluded that Scientology is a religion entitled to treatment as such.

         “We will continue to monitor Germany”

         The open letter to Chancellor Kohl published in the International Herald Tribune has raised even further the level of outrage around the world over the rising intolerance sanctioned and forwarded by political parties in Germany.

         This international reaction can be predicted to grow until the attitude of certain politicians changes and the facts are confronted.

         In a letter from the American White House dated December 26, 1996, Samuel R. Berger, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, told U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney: “I assure you that we will continue to closely monitor the treatment of Scientologists in Germany and to oppose discrimination in the strongest terms.”

         Describing political actions taken against Scientologists in Germany as “excessive and inappropriate,” Berger wrote: “We have noted with concern the obstacles that American Scientologists have faced in recent months, and are troubled by language in the CDU party platform, the German Federal Minister of Labour’s outspoken remarks and measures taken by the Bavarian Parliament.”

         In a similar letter, but addressed to Kohl, on December 31, 1996, U.S. Representative Louise M. Slaughter urged the Chancellor to “take action to prevent further discrimination.”

         Citing numerous examples of official discrimination against artists who are also Scientologists, Congresswoman Slaughter wrote: “The only proper role for the German government is to create a culture of tolerance toward all artists, regardless of their religious views. Therefore, I ask that you make clear to all German government and CDU party officials your disapproval of discrimination against artists on the basis of religion.”

         Kohl obviously ignored this request, as his fellow CDU politicians have ignored all others. But as the open letter published on January 9 made clear, the international community is not going to go away:

         “Extremists of your party should not be permitted to believe that the rest of the world will look the other way. Not this time.”

         Grass Roots Action

         Before publication of the open letter to Chancellor Kohl, concern about the rise of neo-fascist intolerance and violence in Germany was largely limited to political and human rights circles. Millions of ordinary people are now more aware of the shadow looming over Europe. No, there are no death camps. Nobody is saying there are. There were no death camps in 1930, either. But the frequency of politically-inspired, unjustified and unconstitutional assaults, threats, and other acts of calculated intolerance against a wide range of groups is continuing to rise. If German officials could, for a moment, stop protesting about what is not happening, they may be able to see what is.

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