Workers at a Brussels Museum Describe a ‘Toxic’ Work Environment Under Its Director’s Rule of ‘Terror’

The museum’s staff has detailed some 20 grievances in a letter to a government official.

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. Photo by Michel Wal, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, and broken promises. A lack of “equity and basic justice,” and burnout and depression among staff under a rule of “terror” from director Michel Draguet. That’s how workers at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels have described the “toxic” work environment at the institution in an open letter.

“We are preaching in the wilderness, our leaders turn a deaf ear while we survive in a general malaise,” the letter proclaimed, as reported by French-language Belgian broadcaster RTBF and in English by the Brussels Times.

Complaints against Draguet first emerged in December in RTBF, with 31 of the museum’s 176 employees writing a letter detailing their concerns to Secretary of State for science policy Thomas Dermine. That sparked a large-scale investigation of the museum and its management. Empreva, a city agency that protects the workforce, compiled a 28-page report about the psychosocial risks museum staff faced under Draguet’s leadership.

But instead of waiting patiently to see what came of the report, staff felt compelled to speak out further against the director, who has served four terms at the helm of the institution since 2005. (Draguet’s post is once again up for renewal this year.)

Michel Draguet, director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Photo courtesy Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.

Michel Draguet, director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Photo courtesy Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.

The letter accused Draguet of making “unilateral decisions,” having “contempt for staff and heritage,” and engaging in inappropriate behavior, including “sexist and racist comments” and “flirty” remarks. There were some 20 grievances in total.

“It’s obvious that I’m not a perfect guy,” Draguet told RTBF. “I probably speak directly and it’s true that when someone does something stupid, maybe I say it. I use humor on a regular basis, and it can come across the wrong way. When we’re around the table, when we’re among collaborators, I’ve certainly had to do things that are regrettable at times.”

One anonymous employee described these interactions to RTBF as “aggressive and rather brutal,” recalling four or five separate instances where Draguet made remarks about Nazis and World War II to a employee of German heritage, as well as “problematic” comments about women.

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