Fourth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Brussels, Belgium 1992

Report on the Peace Tax Campaign in Belgium (1988-1992)

by VRAK (Aktie Vredesbelasting)

A report on the campaign from 1983 till 1988 can be found in the documents for the 2nd International Conference in Vierhouten (pages 20-21).

Parliamentary action

After the State Council had given its advice (Number 210, 85-86, 3 of October 12, 1987) on the proposed bill in the senate, a revised (mainly simplified) bill was proposed by a Flemish Green representative in the House (Number 1226) on December 12, 1988 and by Walloon Socialist and Green senators in the Senate (Number 753) on June 30, 1989. The proposed bill was discussed in the Finance Committee of the House on January 29, February 5 and March 7, 1991. All the arguments pro and contra can be found in the committee report (Number 1226, 89-90, 3). The proposal was lost by 13 votes to 1 (the vote of the Flemish Agalev sponsor of the bill). In those circumstances we thought it wise to first revisit all parties before bringing the bill to a full vote in the House (initially planned for March 27th). Particularly the change in attitude of the Socialists and Flemish Nationalists (VU) since 1987 has to be deplored.

A lobbying tour (June 1991) by VRAK to the Greens, Socialists, Christian-Democrats and Flemish Nationalists showed that there is interest for our conscientious concern and that our action has been noted in parliament. The lack of support during the vote on March 7 has to be explained as a result of insufficient lobbying and of the fact that, at least in the House, the bill was sponsored only by one opposition party.

The elections of November 24, 1991 resulted in the rise of a Flemish protest party (ROSSEM) and of the extreme-right nationalists (Vlaams Blok in Flanders and Front National in Wallonia). After the formation of a new government (Dehaene: Christian-Democrats and Socialists from both sides of the linguistic border), VRAK has been lobbying in order to find people from various parties to sign a slightly revised bill (summer 1992). We should be able to find at least one representative and one senator from both Green parties (Flemish Agalev and Walloon ECOLO), the (Flemish) SP and (Walloon) PS, the Volksunie (Flemish Nationalists) and perhaps ROSSEM. We must also say that VRAK has concentrated its efforts on the Flemish parliamentarians, whereas the Walloon movement ‘Contribuables pour la Paix’ has not been very active.

Grassroots activities

  1. The basic action model consists in refusing to pay 500 Belgian Francs to the Revenue Service and be prepared for their reaction. The number of people participating in this model has decreased to some dozens a year. Those who persist in their refusal after the reminders have the possibility for an action with good publicity for our cause.
  2. A Roman Catholic priest (Jan Vandenberghe) had his car seized, but the public auction scheduled for December 16, 1989, was called off for unclear reasons (too much publicity?).
  3. A seizure and public sale of expensive furniture (of the undersigned) by the bailiff on June 6 and 15, 1990 in order to get 2 x 500 Francs, resulted in an excellent media event: all national and local papers covered this action in Leuven, often with colour pictures, even on the front page. The sale was also reported very well in the Flemish BRT evening TV news. The furniture has been recovered and the costs of the sale (some 30.000 Francs) were covered by donations. 
  4. Another persistent refusal by Bob De Baecke to pay 2 x 500 Francs and 2 x 7% of his taxes over four years will lead to a court case in Bruges scheduled for October 14th, 1992. The case will no longer be about withheld money (which in the meantime has been recuperated by the Revenue Service on sums they had to repay to this peace activist), but about a compensation of 25.000 Francs to be paid to the Revenue Service for unnecessary costs made for the court case by the Revenue Service.
  5. In order to push the government to halve the military spending and to create a Peace Tax Fund, a campaign called 50% was set up: people pay 50 Francs to the Treasury with the explanation: For a Peace Tax Fund/Against military spending. This action with its much lower threshold is considered as humorous and serious at the same time. In her answer to a parliamentary question in the House, the then Secretary of state for finance (Wivina Demeester) confirmed that the money is put in a special account for third parties and should be spent in accordance with the intentions of the government declaration of May 10, 1988.

Gulf War

In June 1991, shortly after the Gulf War, the government was considering raising a one-time special war tax. VRAK prepared an ad against war tax to be put in some newspapers. In the end this was not done, because the government did not go ahead with its plan for a war tax, reasoning that such a tax would strengthen the demand for a peace tax fund.

Churches

On June 11, 1991 the United Protestant Church in Belgium sent a letter to prime minister W. Martens expressing its concern for the denial of the problem of conscience of the undersigned (an elder of the Leuven protestant parish) and demanding swift progress on proposed legislation.

Publications

A newsletter (VRAK-INFO is sent out four times/year. There is a juridical brochure (Geen geld voor geweld on seizures, etc. (1984, 76 pages ), a booklet (Vredeskost on violence, non-violence and peace tax (1989, 34 pages ), a guide for tax refusal (4 pages + model letters), posters, leaflet.

Peace projects

In order to underline its commitment to non-violent conflict resolution VRAK has supported some peace projects:

Collaboration

The VRAK office is located in the Peace House in Brussels with other peace and CO organisations and relies on the infrastructure of Forum voor Vredesaktie (Flemish WRI). VRAK is also often in contact with the Quaker Council for European Affairs in Brussels and is a member of the Flemish peace movement VAKA-OCV.

Dirk Panhuis

September 1, 1992.