The Dutch War Tax Resistance Movement

Beweging Weigering Defensjebelasting


WTR has a long history in the Netherlands. It goes back as far as the 16th century when in different regions people refused to pay a special war tax Philip II (King of Spain and Duke of Holland) imposed upon the Dutch to finance his wars. This act led to the beginning of the war of independence and the foundation of the Netherlands as a state.

Throughout the following ages several, most individual, cases of WTR occurred, but it took until 1980 before a national movement, the BWD, was founded. The decision of Parliament to employ 48 (out of 572) Pershing II and cruise missiles, despite all the nation-wide resistance, lead to the foundation of the WTR movement. It was deeply felt that stronger actions were needed.

Several groups support the BWD, among them the Quakers, Mennonites, the Dutch IFOR and the CO movement. A group of about 10 people (most representatives of those groups) outline the policy in consultation with local groups. There is a national office with two paid part-time workers, who carry out all the administrative matters, produce the newsletter, organize demonstrations, auctions and so on.

The Peace Fund

In 1982 the Dutch Peace Fund was established. As an independent foundation it has its own board and administration. This was done to avoid any suspicion of fraud. War Tax Resisters deposit the money they withhold in the Peace Fund until the Revenue Service (RS) succeeds in collecting it in another way. Then it can be returned with the interest the deposits produce and with gifts the fund receives peace projects, mostly on alternative defence and arms conversion, are subsidized.

In 1986 the fund contained about ƒ 100.000, - ($50.000) and about ƒ 18.000 - ($6.000) was spent on peace projects. At the moment the fund contains about $25.000. This year the Peace Fund celebrates its 10th anniversary. 

The Bill

In 1988 a group of people (from several churches) presented a bill in parliament containing regulations with respect to taxpayers who have insuperable conscientious objections against the military destination of tax-money (the COMDTM-act). Every citizen can indicate on his/her tax-form that (s)he wants the military amount to be diverted to a special peace fund After the introduction in parliament the bill has been sent to the Council of State for advice. The advice came months later and since then the group has been busy adjusting the bill and lobbying for support among all kind of organizations. The bill would have been discussed in Parliament last November, but it has been postponed to a later date.

The Action models

The BWD unites people with different motives, so different amounts of money are withheld. Those opposed to the missiles or to nuclear armament used to withhold the symbolic amount of ƒ 5,72. Those opposed to all military spending withheld the total percentage which is 10% of their taxes or the amount of ƒ940, - (about $470), which is the amount spend per citizen per year.

But a small group withholds income tax, because just a small group pays their own income tax. The majority of taxpayers have their tax deducted at source by the employer and are therefore unable to withhold a part of their taxes themselves. That made us look for other possibilities as the Value Added Tax on energy-bills and the Motor tax. (Energy in our country is monopolized by the State). The VAT-model made it possible for large numbers of people to participate in WTR.  At the highlight of the struggle against the 48 cruise missiles large numbers of people used this model, bringing a lot of discussion in other peace movements, churches, many town councils and the media...

Another way of protesting against military spending for people, who cannot actually withhold, was found in paying separate. Many demonstrations were organized by local groups to pay the ƒ 5,72 or 10% at the energy-office or RS in person and under protest.

The Consequences

Withholding on the VAT of the energy-bill usually resulted in getting your gas cut off. Many people have been cut off for periods varying from a week or 48 days to two years.

The measures the RS can take against WTRs are the seizure and publicly selling of property; the garnishment of bank accounts and the attachment of earning, pension, rent. Public auctions of property used to be a good way of getting (positive) publicity; so in 1987 the government decided to avoid public auctions in cases of WTR. After the INF Treaty they withdrew the directive and since then, several public auctions have taken place, including two at the BWD office.

After the INF Treaty

From the start in 1980 the BWD was a fast growing movement with in 1986 about 5000 people involved in withholding war taxes, paying separate or supporting the movement in any other way. The employment of the cruise missiles was the main goal of the broader peace movement and large numbers of WTRs joined in that fight. With the signing of the INF Treaty the broader peace movement collapsed, having reached the goal that united them. For the BWD the treaty meant the end of the ƒ 5,72-action and a decline in local groups and individual WTRs. Many people were tired after 5 or 6 years of active resistance and turned to other matters. The more radical activists continued to resist, because the INF Treaty hasn't brought any real changes in their view.

Recent developments

Since the TNF-treaty we have made new plans, inventing new ways to make people understand that we are all responsible for the military spending and to get them involved in WTR. Because of the different motivations of WTRs within the BWD, we developed three ways of tax resisting:

  1. For those opposed to nuclear armament we advice to withheld the (again) symbolic amount of ƒ 9,70, referring to the 97% of nuclear armament still threatening the world.
  2. Radical activists opposed against all military spending are advised to continue withholding all, which amounts to about 10%.
  3. A new, more strategic model links the military spending with the underdevelopment of the third world countries. Based on the Thorsson-report of the United Nation we propose to withhold 2% of any tax to be used for development in the third world. Conform to the Thorsson-report we demand that an International Disarmament Fund will be established to which each government pays 2% of their military budget every year. The millions thus obtained should be spent on development and conversion projects. (The resemblance with our national Peace Fund is stunning)

Although we developed these three ways, most WTRs withheld the 10%.

Because of the recent developments in Eastern Europe it was generally felt that this was the time to start a broad and simple action to put pressure on our government to reduce military expenditure. Not by refusing part of our taxes this time, but by giving them money to do peace-loving things with. These positive developments needed a positive action, we thought. So, in 1990 we started the action called One golden peace (in Dutch the word ‘golden’ means guilder as well). Every participant was asked to pay one guilder to the minister of finance, asking to fund a government peace tax fund, and one guilder to our peace fund, to support peace projects. The response was very positive and about 1.700 people participated in this action. The minister refused to spent the money in the way we asked him to and we are still discussing the matter with him.

As I said since the INF Treaty the number of WTRs declined, but since the Gulf war last year and the new, openly offensive NATO-strategy that derived from that war protests are getting stronger again and slowly, people are getting interested in WTR as a way to make a statement again.

International cooperation

Since the first international conference on WTR and Peace Tax Payers in Tübingen, Germany in 1986 we have been very interested in strengthening the international contacts. In 1988 we organized the second international conference in Vierhouten and at the moment we arc the coordinating group of the international project. At the second and third international conference (in Aosta, Italy) it was decided that we would support one international project together. We decided on the Innu in Labrador, Canada because they suffer from our armament directly and without being at war with us. Several NATO-members - England, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States- practise low-level flying above Innu hunting territory for years now, making it impossible for the Innu-indians to maintain their way of living. On December 10th 1991 -the international day of the Human Rights-actions were held in favour of the Innu worldwide and more then $12.500 was sent to support them financially.

We value the international contacts highly, because it strengthens our own campaign. People are more willing to listen when you can tell them about WTR in other countries as well. In addition, exchanging information and experiences is very encouraging, inspiring and useful. In the past we used an idea from the Italian movement in our campaign and at the moment we are working on an alternative tax form similar to the Alternative Income Tax Return form the War Resisters League in New York developed. At the next international conference, which will be held in Brussels, Belgium in November this year we hope to continue and strengthen the international cooperation.


This year our Peace Fund celebrates its l0th anniversary. Reason for us to initiate a new action: the V-biljet (the Peace-form). The form resembles the forms that the revenue-service uses for declaration (the A-form) or return (the T-form) etc. On this form people can calculate how much money they personally pay for military spending. We also ask them to tell us how they wish to see the money spend otherwise.

Trix van Vugt