Since the publication of the parliamentary report on sects in 1997 and of an annexed list of movements suspected to be harmful sects, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has been treated by some public authorities and private institutions as a dangerous movement. As far as the Hare Krishna movement is concerned, the parliamentary commission on sects heard the testimonies of three members of the same anti-sect organisation VVPG (Vereniging ter verdediging van persoon en gezin/ Association for the Defence of the Person and the Family). Professor Van den Wyngaert, founder the VVPG, was listed in the category "Representatives of the academic world". Mrs M. Degrieck was identified as a sociologist of the VVPG and Mr. L. De Droogh as the vice-president (1).
By the end of 2001, the "Information and Advice Centre on harmful sectarian movements" had not been asked by a public authority if they consider the ISKCON a harmful sectarian organization.
Food delivery to people in need banned by the mayor of Liège
On 13 November 2001, the mayor of Liège Willy Demeyer (Socialist Party) banned the free distribution of vegetarian food to people in need by the association "Hare Krishna Food for Life" on the grounds of two complaints dated 27 January 2000 and 4 October 2001. The distribution had been allowed in 1997 by the former mayor and former minister Jean-Maurice Dehousse (Socialist Party) and took place at the Place des Carmes on Wednesday from noon to 2 p.m. Disturbance of public order and of cleanness, harassment of passers-by (including students) were the main reproaches put forward by the municipal council but its decision also said another reason was that " an important number of social organisations also distribute food".
In an open letter to the mayor, "Hare Krishna Food for Life" recalled that they had tried to contact the mayor more than fifteen times either directly or through their lawyer but to no avail because he had allegedly refused to meet their representative. With regard to the two complaints, "Hare Krishna Food for Life" sent the mayor a petition with 500 signatures in favour of their food distribution. The organization also clarified that no proselytism was involved in their social activity, that after each distribution they collected the garbage and took it away in plastic bags.
The influence of the so-called "sect list"
In a letter dated 17 October 2001, the director of the Housing Trust for large families in Wallonia refused to grant a loan to the "International Society for Krishna Consciousness" for the purchase and renovation of a building on the grounds that "it appears on the list of sectarian movements published in the report of the Parliamentary Commission on sects. Consequently, our board of directors fears that our support contributes to the financing of this movement".
The Hare Krishna movement runs a castle in the Ardennes and attracts many tourists. However, the relations with the tourism agencies are difficult on the ground that Hare Krishna is supposed to be a harmful sect as the following letter sent by the Tourist Information Office shows "Herewith, we inform you that we have received your kind invitation. However, we do not wish and we do not want to have any contact with the Krishna sect" (2).
Homeschooling: threats from the Ministry of the French Community
A number of Hare Krishna families homeschool their children. Although this is only a very marginal form of education and it is not encouraged by public authorities, the education law provides for such a possibility. On 23 October 2001, Mr and Mrs Janssens received a threatening letter from Mr Jacky Leroy, general director of the Ministry of the French Community, saying "According to my records, your children Nimai (born on 2 March 1988) and Lalita (born on 20 December 1990) are currently not enrolled in any school. If this is the case, you are infringing the 29 June 1983 law concerning compulsory education. If your child is enrolled in a school, I would like you to tell me by return in which one. If you don’t, I will be obliged to denounce you to the King’s Prosecutor".
However, the application for homeschooling had been sent back to the canton inspectorate in due time.
Belgian naturalization denied
In 1999, Mr Martin Gurvich, born in Uruguay, applied for Belgian nationality (File 99004416). Mr Gurvich is one of the leaders of the Hare Krishna movement in Belgium. He has been living in Belgium for 10 years and he got married with a Dutch citizen. He speaks French quite fluently. Their children were born in Belgium and speak French.
More than one year later, the House of Representatives of Belgium answered him that his application had been turned down because of "insufficient will of integration". (3)
Mr Gurvich’s application had been supported by the Uruguayan ambassador in Brussels, Mr Guillermo Valles Galmes, who wrote to the naturalization service of the House of Representatives " The Uruguayan citizen in question is well known to me and merits all my confidence… I know his mother and his wife too. Both of them also merit the greatest respect. Mr Gurvich’s main activities include the organising of international exhibitions on the important work of his father José Gurvich, one of the major present-day plastic artists. The Foreign Ministry has often sponsored exhibitions held by the Gurvich family in various European and American capital cities, to the full satisfaction of the national and local authorities… The collection of his father’s works allow Mr Gurvich to rely on an important financial support (…) and to be economically independent." (4)
On two occasions, Mr Gurvich sent a letter to the relevant service of the House of Representatives because he wanted to know the reasons of the rejection of his application. Every time time, he received a laconic standardized letter which failed to answer his question: "On proposal of the naturalization committee, the House of Representatives decided at his meeting of 18 May 2000 to turn down your request on the ground of insufficient will of integration." (5) and "I am confirming the terms of my letter dated 22 May 2001, that is to say that on proposal of the naturalization committee…" (6). But this time, the signatory of the letter added "the decision is definitive".
"The way the House of Representatives avoids answering my legitimate question makes me think that my affiliation to a so-called "sect" is the real reason for the refusal to grant me the Belgian citizenship", Mr. Gurvich told Human Rights Without Frontiers.
Mr. L. De Droogh has since then become a deputy member of the "Information and Advice Centre on harmful sectarian movements".
Letter sent by Mr and Mrs Thoelen-Remy on 31 October 2000.
Registered letter dated 24 May 2000 and signed by Ms G. Craps, first adviser to the manager.
Letter dated 29 March 1999 and signed by the Uruguayan ambassador.
Registered letter dated 25 October 2001 and signed by Ms G. Craps, first adviser to the manager.
Letter dated 17 December 2001 and signed by Ms G. Craps, first adviser to the manager.