15th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns

by Karen Robinson ~ February 19th, 2020. Filed under: Events.


Monica Frisch reports on the international conference Conscience hosted in Edinburgh:

The 15th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns took place in the Quaker Meeting House in central Edinburgh at the end of November 2019.

The conference started on the evening of Thursday 28th November with a welcome from a Scottish piper playing his bagpipes as he led the participants into the Meeting House. A buffet supper was provided by the Quaker Meeting House and then formal proceedings commenced, with a welcome first from Robin Brookes on behalf of Conscience.

Brian Larkin from the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre also welcomed us to Edinburgh and explained the background to their “Opposing War Memorial” project, pointing out that there are at least 37 war memorials in Edinburgh but not one to conscientious objectors. The project had organised a design competition, won by Edinburgh artist Kate Ive, who explained the concept of her design, showing us the model of the memorial. They are raising funds and negotiating a site in Princes Street Gardens. For more information see https://opposingwarmemorial.wordpress.com/ .

Vijay Mehta then gave a presentation “Departments for Peace and Peace Centres” in which he presented his arguments for every country having a department for peace. He provided plenty of factual information, on military spending and the costs of war, but also on the benefits of peace centres, arguing that peace could become a profitable industry. He provided a summary of his arguments as a handout and also had copies of his recent book How not to go to war (New Internationalist 2019) which develops the arguments further.

On Friday 29th November the first presentation was a fascinating account by Peter Dungen. Entitled “Paying for Peace, peace philanthropy through history” he talked authoritatively about the many philanthropists who have supported peace initiatives. These included Andrew Carnegie who founded the Peace Palace in The Hague, Bill Gates, Alfred Nobel and a number of others.

After the coffee break, participants shared information on war tax resistance and peace tax campaigning in their own countries. We heard from Netzwerk friedenssteuer, the German campaign, with a supplementary report from Hannelore Morgenstern on a church initiative in Baden. Jan Birk, also from Germany, explained that the Belgian group VRAK was closing down as there were only two people involved but that they had some money for a project for a peace ministry, preferably in Belgium. Erica Leigh, talked about the work of the National War Tax Resistance Co-ordinating Committee in the United States. While Conscience Canada had been unable to send anyone in person they had sent a video in which their president explained they were trying to attract younger people and were refocussing discussions around broader issues including divestment from the armaments industry. We also had a video from a Russian peace campaigner. Christophe Barbey made a few comments on the situation in Switzerland while Jonathan Maunders gave a report on Conscience’s activities, including work on the concept of a Minister for Peace and Disarmament, the ‘Count the Nuclear Weapons Money’ event, and future plans.

In the afternoon, there was a participatory session, led by Vijay Mehta, on “Campaigns / Activism for Peace – What is my role?” which included a quiz with questions such as “How many countries have a government department for peace?” – the answer was five: Afghanistan, Costa Rica, East Timor, Nepal, the Solomon Islands and South Sudan [that’s six…].

In the evening participants enjoyed excellent food and a ceilidh put on by Anne McCullagh-D’Lyske, Conscience’s Edinburgh activist who had done most of the arrangements for the conference.

On Saturday morning the main item was the General Assembly of Conscience and Peace Tax International, including the presentation of the accounts for 2017-19. Dietmar Czerny stood down from the Board and Anne McCullagh-D’Lyske was elected onto it. There was a useful discussion about strengthening CPTI and increasing its effectiveness.

After another good lunch provided by the Quaker Meeting House, most participants watched the film “War School” while a small group discussed working with the churches. The evening had been kept free for socialising, and most participants went together for a meal after the formal end of the Conference.

On Sunday 1st December a group of participants went by coach to Faslane, on the west coast of Scotland, where the submarines which carry British nuclear weapons are based. Unfortunately there was only time for a very brief visit to the nearby Peace Camp, which has been bearing witness to and protesting about the nuclear weapons for many years, before the coach had to return to Edinburgh.

During the Conference there were plenty of opportunities for informal discussions and also to study the very interesting display on conscientious objectors in Scotland and of materials from various peace tax campaigns.

The 15th Conference was very different to earlier ones. The main difference was that there were fewer participants – only a couple of dozen – and as it was non-residential the numbers fluctuated. Conscience was disappointed not to attract more participants, as it had put a lot of work into organising the event, but made up for numbers physically present with social media links. Almost all the proceedings were videoed and live-streamed via Facebook – highlights are at https://m.facebook.com/taxesforpeacenotwar. A report which will include copies of handouts and fuller country reports will be prepared and distributed later this year.

We thank the Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House for their hospitality, including the provision of tea, coffee, cakes and plenty of food for lunches on both days and supper on the Friday evening. We also thank those peace activists who contributed to the event in various ways, and especially we thank Anne McCullagh-D’Lyske for doing so much of the organising and for arranging the Scottish touches: the piper, the ceilidh and the warm welcome.

Monica Frisch

Conscience Taxes for Peace not War

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