Eighth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Washington, DC USA 2000

Belgium (Flemish community):

VRAK: 1996-2000 Country Report

1. VRAK (AKtie VRedesbelasting) (Flemish Peace Tax Campaign)

van Elewijckstraat 35, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

Phone: +32-2-6487583. Fax: +32-2-6400774.

E-mail: Bob.de.baecke@Mailandnews.com

Website: surf.to/vrak {www.vrak.be 11/2007 -webweaver}

VRAK will move with the Flemish branch of WRI (Forum voor Vredesaktie) to a new address in June 2000: Patriottenstraat 27, 2600 Berchem-Antwerpen.

2. Report written by Dirk Panhuis,

Bruineveld 11, 3010 Leuven, Belgium. Phone: +32-16-25 40 11 (also fax if you call first).

E-mail: panhuis.rojo@pi.be

3.  VRAK is a de facto organization

with a board consisting of

  1. Dirk Panhuis (teacher)
  2. Luc Simoens (retired priest)
  3. Bob De Baecke (teacher/librarian)
  4. Koen Moens (also 1/3 time staff person from October 1, 1997 till Summer 2000)
  5. Jan Hellebaut (half-time teacher; 1/3 staff person from Summer 2000)

VRAK has no formal membership. The VRAK-INFO is sent to some 1.200 addresses.

4. Budget

The approximate yearly budget in €:
Year 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Total budget (approximate) 4.000 6.000 10.500 10.000 12.000
1/3 salary (approximate 0 1.100 6.000 6.300 8.000

5. Goals and activities:

  1. lobbying for legislation in the national (federal) parliament: recognition of CO to paying taxes for military purposes and creation of a PTF;
  2. support WTRs by street actions, legal and financial support;
  3. conscientization of the public about WTR and PTF through the newsletter VRAK-INFO, leafleting, our presence with stand ‘how to spend tax money?’ at peace and other grass root meetings, coverage of (court) actions by press;
  4. obtain support from big and small (grass roots) organizations;
  5. collaboration with our French speaking sister organization Contribuables pour la paix ;
  6. support civil forms of conflict resolution;
  7. support CPTI; support other regional, national, and international (peace) actions.

6. Present size and scope of the movement: hard to tell.

  1. The newsletter VRAK-INFO is mailed to some 1.300 addresses. Only some of them pay.
  2. Most people we ask at large gatherings (on peace, ecology, third world...), sign our petition asking for legislation. They receive the VRAK-INFO .
  3. 61 organizations have now signed our petition asking for legislation.

Note : VRAK is only active in the Flemish Community (some 6 million inhabitants). The Kingdom of Belgium (10 million inhabitants) is a Federal State, comprising three Regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and bilingual Brussels) and three Communities (Flemish, French, and German speaking). The regions are territorial; the communities are made up of the persons.

7. Recent developments:

  1. Parliament:
    • During the CVP - SP - PS - PSC government (Christian-democrats and socialists, both Flemish and French speaking) (1995-1999) we tried to make contacts with party head quarters without much avail. The Christian-democrats talk a lot about (Christian) values, but we did not find people to talk about conscience in their Headquarters.
    • We did some lobbying mainly with Flemish socialist representatives who personally were interested, but in 1998 and 1999 their leadership did not allow them to co-sign such a bill in the election year (June 1999). Also the Flemish nationalists were making problems. The bill (2192/1 - 98/99) was finally introduced on April 23, 1999 by members of the Green parties (Agalev and ECOLO) only. (We do not like a one party bill.) The activities of the French-speaking WTR-PTC-movement Contribuables pour la paix were rather limited. The June 1999 elections (the “mother of all elections”: Federal House, Federal Senate, Regional parliaments, European Parliament: all at the same time) brought a landslide defeat for the Christian-democrats and socialists, and gains for extreme-right, right, and Greens. The federal government now is composed of six parties: liberals (right), socialists, and greens (both Flemish and Walloon): a purple-green coalition. There is a new style of government. Furthermore, the Greens generally support us, the socialists want to keep military spending low, the liberals are most in favor of military spending: they keep each other in balance.
    • The proposal for a PTF bill has been slightly revised by VRAK and Contribuables pour la paix, and is now being discussed with mainly green supportive members of the House. More lobbying is needed before introducing it again. This will be done in 2000. In the mean time a Green Senator (Michiel Maertens) has introduced the (unchanged) bill on his own initiative on November 30, 1999.
  2. WTR: yearly less than 10 people send us the symbolic amount of 500 F (12,50€) or all the military taxes they CAN withhold (when they have to pay extra). Some give in, some go on. Encouraging is that a few people are pursuing their action against the Internal Revenue Service. Besides, in their civil disobedience action they refuse all the money they can refuse.
  3. Judicial: BDB has one and JH two cases pending in court. Any judicial step in this process is used for public action (+ press coverage). The lawyer of BDB and JH is using more and more the international conventions.
  4. Relations with other bodies:
    • VRAK supports other peace initiatives and seeks to gain wider support in those circles. Particularly since the abolition of the draft in Belgium in 1993 resistance to ‘financial conscription’ seems to make sense to people in general and to the peace movement in particular.
    • VRAK regularly goes to peace and grass root gatherings with its stand “How to spend your tax money”. This stand is based on Canadian ‘Looney Poll’: very good didactic material as a start for interesting discussions. We give the passers by a 5 F coin and ask them to put it in one of four transparent tubes, labeled ‘Education’, ‘Social’, ‘Environment’, and ‘Military’. Needless to say that the military tube remains almost completely empty. Leaflets are distributed and signatures collected for our petition asking for legislation.
    • From time to time we publish articles in church, third world, and peace journals.

8. Peace related projects supported by VRAK:

VRAK supports projects in the area of civil conflict resolution (yearly some 250 €) in addition to CPTI (in 1997 and 1999). Beneficiaries have been: WTR nonviolent intervention fund (1996). Contribuables pour la paix (Wallonia) (1997). International Kosovo project “Peace Embassy” (1998), Court case ISKD Osman (Turkey) (1999).

9. Publications etc.

  1. Newsletter VRAK-INFO (some 1300 copies), 4 times/year on 4 to 8 pages.
  2. A website has been made by web master Bob De Baecke: surf.to/vrak {www.vrak.be 11/2007 -webweaver}.
  3. Leaflets:
    • older ones still used: see report in Proceedings Hoddesdon conference, page 50.
    • The nice ‘bank note flyer’ allows people only to react by giving a standing bank order. A new version bearing a euro bank note will be changed in this respect.
    • “Ten misunderstandings” (4 pages) remains very useful for all those who need more but not too long explanation.
    • V-biljet’ is also distributed at stands on fairs, etc.
    • The “Guide for tax refusal” is occasionally sent out.
    • New (2000) lobbying leaflet “NU moet ons wetsvoorstel er komen”(We need a bill NOW) urges people to write-a personal letter to politicians. (Suggestions-are provided, but the letter cannot be copied as is.) On the slip people can indicate their form of financial or other support. (One must realize that writing letters to representatives and senators is no as customary in Belgium as it is in the USA.)

10. Plans for the near future.

  1. More intensive lobbying in parliament.
  2. Financial campaign to have a solid base for payment of salary. We hired Koen with a favorable scheme giving us a yearly decreasing reduction of 100%, 75%, 50%, 0% in social charges. Starting October 1, 2000 we would have to pay the full social charges. Jan Hellebaut's salary will cost us more, partly because we will not have such a reduction.
  3. Join broader peace and social protest against (tax money for) a European army.

11. Significant challenges.

The new political coalition government presents a new opportunity for political progress. Although the Greens constitute the smallest part of the majority, they try to do something: not only to resist (sometimes with the socialists) new military spending (like the new Joint Strike Fighter), but also to bring a new dimension in civil conflict resolution. On the other hand we still face ‘battles’ against the plans for a European army. Also peace is not a hot topic these days and the army is promoting its ‘humanitarian’ profile.

12. Other significant topics.

VRAK is committed to international activities and to CPTI.

  1. Koen Moens, Dirk Panhuis, and Bob De Baecke went to the 6th International Conference on WTR-PTCs in Hoddesdon (November 1996).
  2. Bob (and spouse Yolanda) and Dirk (and spouse Emilia) went to the 7th Conference in New Delhi (December 1998).
  3. Dirk (and spouse Emilia) participate in the 8th conference in Washington, DC
  4. Dirk Panhuis is secretary of CPTI.
  5. Koen Moens and Dirk Panhuis went to the European Peace Congress in Osnabrück (Germany. May 1998). Koen Moens participated in the preparation of a document for the EPC earlier in April 1998 in Berlin.