Relief and Satisfaction about the World Children's Festival

Basel, Switzerland
July 22, 2000
Basler Zeitung (BaZ)

The initiator and the President of the World Children's Festival which took place several weeks ago in Dreiland have their first reassessment of the situation. Financially, there seem to be no major problems, otherwise they are satisfied, but have also voiced several critical points about the festival. For instance, the German participation was rather weak. That should change.

BaZ (this newspaper): The World Children's Festival has been over for several weeks. How are you doing after the final act?

Frederic Striby: You'll mainly have to ask Roland Baumann about that. This was his baby. But naturally I am relieved that the festival was a success, it could have also have been a flop. I am very satisfied.

Roland Bauman: I am relieved, but somehow don't realize it's all over yet. It is incredible that everything went so well and and as good as nothing happened until a Bulgarian child tore his muscle a little bit. I am also relieved that we were able to keep within 4 or 5 percent of our projected budget.

Striby: I would like to emphasize that I first came into it the end of February as President of the association. At the beginning I thought the project was a little crazy, but Roland Baumann is a very convincing person. I spoke out in favor of the festival at the Upper Alsatian General Council. There it was supported with 450,000 franks. That set things in motion so that other partners got involved, too.

Was the Festival a success?

Striby: I am completely satisfied. Looking back on things, surely we would have done a few small things differently, but nothing major.

Baumann: Now that it's behind us I am amazed what all the festival did for me, mainly as concerns the contact with the children. I think we've done something useful there.

Striby: The message is appropriate. It has to do with making the children into future messengers of peace. Children came from 103 countries. That is an enormous number in the short time we had available. 103 of 188 UNO members, fabulous!

Baumann: Many pictures were taken and the children took peace trees and shovels back with them. Now it will all bear fruit, even here in Dreiland: anybody who hosted a child from Burkina Faso for a ten-day visit is no longer the same person.

Back to money. There was a pledge of 500,000 Swiss franks from one Basel citizen in case you had a deficit. Did you have to take him up on that?

Striby: The bank guarantee was given spontaneously. Fortunately we didn't need it. There was some problem with the 900,000 franks from Interreg. We won't get the last 20 percent of that for one or two years.

Participation from German students and teachers was weak. Why was that and how do you intend to change that in case there is another festival?

Striby: That's right. There we didn't meet our goal by a long shot.

Baumann: If there was something negative about the whole thing, then it was the lack of German participation. I see several reasons why we didn't pull that off. In France we already had a good network set up from work I had done in the past upon which we could build. In Switzerland, Basel-City Canton provided some officers for the festival and Kofi Annan's arrival almost guaranteed success. But in Germany, we didn't already have a network there and there was no big event there like Annan's visit to Basel. I blame myself for that, I should have tried harder. Now I have points of contact among German teachers who approached us. If we have another festival, we'll integrate the project. Gudrun Heute-Blum, the Executive Mayor of Loerrach, also showed interest. I'm scheduled to meet her in August.

The people in Weil were very unsatisfied. One event planned for Tuellingen Hill was cancelled, many children didn't go.

Baumann: That was a coincidence. Three or four days before the start of the festival, several countries cancelled because they had visa problems. The children had all been scheduled for Germany. We couldn't do anything about it. A sort of memorial had been planned for Tuellingen Hill, a big ceremony on Friday evening. But six weeks prior we noticed the agenda was too tight and hardly any children from Switzerland or France would have gone. Therefore I suggested cancelling the ceremony.

Sure you would have been aware of that in advance.

Baumann: Mea culpa, I made a mistake. I was overburdened and did not realize in time that the ceremony was too much. I am sorry. I will try to make up for that.

Many people said the dedication ceremony in Mulhouse was too long.

Striby: Mulhouse spontaneously said it was ready to go along with the festival. Our agreement was that each city, in a given scope, would see to the organization of its ceremony. Perhaps it was actually a little bit long, but they meant well. I don't like to say this, but one problem was certainly the much too long address by the Unesco representative, add to that it was poorly translated in two languages. But in favor of Mulhouse I also have to say that the city performed some thankless preparatory work. Perhaps thanks, in part, to the mistakes in Mulhouse, things went much better in Basel.

There was also some criticism about the RegioTriRhena council. It was said it was not stressed enough, the organization was not so professional ...

Striby: I did everything I could to point out the tri-national side of the festival. In this connection it is also worth mentioning the efforts of Mr. Georg Endress, who helped us out of difficulties more than once. I think it was that fact that the festival was tri-national that it was not easy to manage. Rules and establishments in Switzerland and in Germany are different than in France, but that's where the responsibility was, after all, since the association's offices were in France.

Baumann: We had first tried to find a tri-national status with the help of the council of the RegioTriRhena, but that didn't work. The council withdrew from the festival at the end of October, but its logo was near Unesco on the letterhead paper.

Striby: We needed so much time to find a solution. So much that the 2,000 children slipped into the background. That won't happen again.

Didn't the festival, primarily for the 500 children from all over the world, end up being an event for the children of the rich?

Striby: That question was also put to us by the Alsatian politicians. We would have had to have paid better attention to the selection of the children. It went through a Unesco competition and it turned out there that the children primarily came from those well-to-do, which is not an unconditional flaw.

Baumann: In Eschentzwill, near Mulhouse, the residents collected money to pay for the travel of Egyptian children. And from Hesingue, children from Madagascar were invited. The original idea was to provide travel for all children to the festival, but we really didn't have the money for that, and at the end of 1999 we had to make progress, we had to find children who could come here. And finally, one can conceive that these well-to-do children one day could hold important key positions as adults and then perhaps implement their experiences from the festival. But I do not want to deviate from the question. It would surely be valid in the future to keep the selection open.

There was some discussion because of the participation of a Swiss artist who professes to be a Scientologist. Do you think you dealt with the conflict correctly?

Striby: Our association is non-political, non-religious and non-ideological, that is basic. We had no idea of the artist's membership in Scientology and would have said no if we had known. But he never had contact with festival management, only with a member of the management council. The artist's planned action was self-financed, so we agreed. The solution which was found, that the artist not participate in the official part of the closing ceremony with Kofi Annan and Adolf Ogi, but do what he wanted afterwards, seemed satisfactory to me. That way he was able to express himself as an artists without placing his membership in Scientology in the foreground. The whole thing was regulated from the Swiss side, from Christoph Stutz, and I think that he did it well.

Will there be a 2002 edition of the World Children's Festival?

Striby: Roland Baumann is hired until the end of December, we have the last executive session at the end of August: the definitive agreement will be submitted then. First there is the question of how it would continue. But the final question is whether Roland Bauman intends to continue, because he is the person from whom the initiative for the festival has come.

Baumann: In view of the fact that we have gained so many people's confidence, I would love to, but will not decide until after a review of the last festival.

Interview Peter Schenk

Welcome news

Re: "Peace Globe comes from Scientologist, BaZ Nr. 142

Basel, Switzerland
June 30, 2000
Basler Zeitung

Swiss artist Housi Knecht has come into the cross fire of criticism because of his membership in Scientology. His Peace Globe which was supposed to be presented at the World Children's Festival in St. Jakob Stadium was not presented. This is welcome news. Unfortunately though, the article in incomprehensible for uninformed readers. No mention is made of what Scientology really is and what goals their leaders pursue. I would have been pleased to see a short description of Scientology like that in order to make the proceedings of the people responsible for the World Children's Festival better understandable.

Brigitte Heilbronner-Uehlinger, Basel

Scientologist raises tempers

Basel, Switzerland
June 21, 2000

Artist and Scientologist Housi Knecht is preparing a sculpture for the world children's festival in Basel, in which Kofi Annan and Adolf Ogi are also participating.

by Hugo Stamm, Zürich

On Saturday, Basel will experience heavy traffic. UNO General Secretary Kofi Annan and Federal President Adolf Ogo will be making the trip to the final event of the World Children's Festival. Their host will be Basel City Executive President Ralph Lewin. An important role is also supposed to be played by sculptor and Scientologist Housi Knecht, who will create a giant world peace sphere this Wednesday with hundreds of children. It had originally been planned to present the iron sculpture at the close of the festival to honor the prominent visitors. When the organizers learned on Tuesday that Knecht was a Scientologist, they invited the artist to leave.

Neither the Basel government nor the organizational team knew about it. Basel passed a law in the not too distant past that prohibits Scientologists from recruiting on public land any more in an aggressive manner. This law sets a precedent in Europe. Now that a Scientologist is supposed to play a prominent role in the World Children's Festival, this is causing quite a stir in Basel.

Knecht protested, "We have freedom of belief in Switzerland. To be sure, I am proud to be a Scientologist, but this action has nothing to do with Scientology." While that is absolutely correct, experience shows that Scientology uses any opportunity to use celebrity Scientologists to recruit and proselytize for the organization. Examples of this include actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise, art painter Gottfried Helnwein and the well-known Swiss athlete Stefan Burkart.

Knecht has already been reported upon by Scientology magazines. Besides that, sect specialists all over the world have rated Scientology as an assimilative organization which pretends to be a church, but which in reality has undemocratic structures and goals.

Changes in the program

Ever since it became known that Knecht is a professed Scientologist, the city's and organizers' phone lines have been burning up. "The event with the peace sphere is only one parallel event for the close of the World Children's Festival being put on by gallery operators of the Regio Gallery," said a speaker of the organizers. The committee decided yesterday to have Knecht produce the peace sphere with the children, but not, as had been planned, to have the sculpture presented in St. Jakobshalle where the celebration with Kofi Annan and Adlof Ogi will take place.

Peace Globe comes from Scientologist

Basel, Switzerland
June 21, 2000
Basler Zeitung (BaZ for short)

by Markus Sutter

A symbolic "peace globe" which will be produced in the scope of the World Children's Festival, has caused some unrest behind the scenes. That is because the iron sphere bears the signature of a high-ranking Scientologist. Critics are weighing a suspicion that the visit of the UNO General Secretary in Basel could be misused for recruitment purposes by this organization. However this danger no longer exists.

Basel. This coming Saturday, UNO General Secretary Kofi Annan, accompanies by Federal President Adolf Ogi, will be paying a visit to the City of Basel.

The stated purpose for their visit is the first World Children's Festival, which is presently being put on in the three-country-area (see BaZ [this newspaper] from yesterday). In the scope of projects making up the week's festivities, there is an artistic discussion with the theme of "Learn Peace - Live Peace." As reported, this Wednesday, Swiss artist Housi Knecht will be working in front of the Elizabeth Church on a large symbolic Peace Globe - a steel apparatus with a diameter of eight feet - upon which the six Unesco manifest items will be welded. After the work is done, it was (but is no longer) scheduled that it be transported into St. Jakob's Stadium where the work of art - "a symbol for a commonly constructed peaceful world" - was to have been dedicated by Kofi Annan.

40,000 dollars for the "War Chest"

So much for the original plan, now enter Basel SP Greater Assemblywoman Susanne Haller. Namely, Haller stated emphatically that artist Housi Knecht is regarded as a high-ranking Scientologist, a point also agreed upon by the Zurich sect specialist Hugo Stamm. That is proven alone by the fact that the artist paid 40,000 dollars into a "War Chest" a couple of years ago. That money is used for things which include financing legal proceedings against critics of Scientology. Moreover, Haller got that information first-hand, which would be from Housi Knecht himself.

Projects from this artist on public land are presently also running into opposition in Bern and Zurich. In Basel, finding an alternative was relatively easy, because the action originated from a private initiative. But the entire gathering absolutely takes on a public character when one thinks about all the possible participants.

Propaganda Risk

The risk of Kofi Annan's visit being used by the Scientologists for "shameless" propaganda purposes is very high in any case, as Haller clearly expressed herself to BaZ. Haller is very upset just at the idea of a press photograph being distributed worldwide of UNO General Secretary together with Housi Knecht and the Peace Globe in Basel. Moreover the Peace Globe "Mondo Novis" is to be put to press in a trilingual brochure in an issue of 500,000 copies.

How about Hugo Stamm? What would he have advised the Basel government to do if he were in charge of the political component of this event? The whole project with the Peace Globe is said to be a symbolic side-event.

Stamm's recommendation was that it could still be carried out, but, ideally, not in the context of Kofi Annan's visit. Reverend Felix Felix [sic], who rented the space from the Elizabeth Church for the organizers, had no idea of the artists' membership in Scientology. He was very sorry about the situation, but hoped that a suspicious light would not now be shed on the "wild operation."

Elisabeth Fark of the Regio Gallery, who initiated the art project with Housi Knecht, was surprised but little impressed. According to her interview, she had no knowledge of the artist's membership in Scientology. But after all, she said, membership was not prohibited, and Knecht had never told her he had any intentions of converting people. As long as an artist produced something beautiful and was not doing anything illegal, she was not interested in anything else.

Housi Knecht, the subject of the great debate, does not understand, either, why his artistic work is all of a sudden being associated with his Scientology membership. He told the BaZ that he did not have any sort of propaganda intentions in mind - such as in the form of a high profile publicity photo with the UNO General Secretary. General plans along those lines would have been condemned to failure, as can be deciphered from the statements of the Vice President of the association "festival mondial des enfants," Christoph Stutz. In any case, Stutz heard about the artist's membership in Scientology for the first time yesterday. He said the only people who stood to gain from the platform were the 2,000 children. This is supposed to serve to show the next generation that the meaning of peace and non-violence extends beyond national borders. He said the Peace Globe was guaranteed as a good - and free - idea from the committee. But it certainly was not the main theme. Neither could Stutz conceive of public relations being produced in favor of an artist by means of Mssrs. Annan and Ogi, regardless of whether that artist now belonged to the Scientologists or not.

Called off

It was finally told to BaZ in the evening that the people in charge of the closing events, based on the most recent information, had decided to leave out transporting the Peace Globe into St. Jakob's Stadium.