MUNICH When it comes to tax matters, Germans arent big on active resistance. They complain, they grumble, they rant about high taxes. Some find legal or semi-legal ways to avoid paying them. Others secretly evade tax payments. But its pretty rare indeed for somebody to draw a line in the sand and simply refuse to pay: the Germans just arent a nation of active fiscal protesters or tax strikers.
Not so Markus Zwicklbauer. For 30 years the 58-year-old resident of Fürstenzell bei Passau has not only been a tax advisor but also a model of probity as far as paying his own taxes goes. Thats no longer the case. Except instead of creating a foundation in Liechtenstein to quietly hide his money from German fiscal authorities, Zwicklbauer is making his refusal very public indeed.
Hes on strike, and he wants everybody to know it, writing the authorities a letter explaining his position. As he told one local paper: "It is just not admissible that our tax money is used to pay for the inefficiency of Greece and other EU countries."
And so Greek and other euro-zone debt has turned Zwicklbauer into a tax protester. What he has decided to do is pay the tax money he owes into an escrow account. And, he says, tax authorities are welcome to it if "it can be proven that the money will be used in Germany for the common good of its citizens and not wasted abroad."
German fiscal authorities seldom have to deal with unusual cases like this. There are a few oddballs here and there who claim there is no proof of the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and hence no entity to pay taxes to. (Who is Mrs. Merkel, then? How come there are streets, teachers not to mention fiscal authorities who go after the holders of this bizarre belief?)
Berlusconi and Wesley Snipes
As irony would have it, tax strikes are not at all unheard of in Greece the very country that Markus Zwicklbauer doesnt want his hard-earned money going to. According to a poll there, 43% of small business owners are thinking of launching tax strikes as a mean of protesting government austerity measures. And in Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has hinted that he considers refusal to pay taxes morally legitimate under certain conditions.
In the United States, the phenomenon is relatively widespread, including an entire anti-tax movement comprised of those who believe that the state quite simply doesnt have the right to take money from individual citizens to finance schools, hospitals or streets that are shared by all.
One of the movements best-known members is actor Wesley Snipes, who is currently serving jail time because he refused to pay millions in back taxes. Out of principle. Like hundreds of thousands of other Americans, he based his argument on an obscure paragraph in American tax law. But his refusal got him nowhere. Except into trouble.
Trouble is where Markus Zwicklbauer is doubtlessly heading -- with fiscal authorities sending him reminders to pay up, and warnings that if he doesnt, the law will come knocking.
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