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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Children Devote Art for Taxes' Sake

In its latest bid to guilt citizens into paying their taxes, the Tax Ministry has mobilized a sector of society whose words it hopes would-be taxpayers will heed: their children.

Tax Minister Alexander Pochinok opened a weeklong exhibition of children's drawings, dubbed "Coffers Make a Kingdom Strong," in Moscow on Monday as part of the first All-Russia Competition of Children's Drawings and Posters.

The one-room exhibit, at the Culture Ministry's Rosizo Museum and Gallery, features pictures selected by a jury as the best of some 1,500 submitted so far by children from across Russia ages 5 and up.

"Our task is to teach taxpayers to pay their taxes in the simplest way possible," a beaming Pochinok said. "Children understand the mechanism of the tax system and know why taxes must be paid and how they are collected.

"Good taxpayers are growing up and we have to create a good tax system for them," he added.

Russia is notorious for its Byzantine tax system and rampant tax evasion. The Tax Ministry has tried to change that with public awareness campaigns, including television spots featuring unpaid public sector employees, such as teachers, or animated shorts hyperbolizing the consequences of skipping out on taxes. Other tactics have involved well-publicized commando-style raids on businesses alleged to have withheld tax payments.

The display features a number of drawings reminiscent of early Soviet avant-garde along the lines of Alexander Rodchenko, as well as scenes with characters from traditional fairy tales.

One picture by Sonya Grachyova, 14, in the style of 1920s and 1930s propaganda posters exhorting the public to work harder, depicts a geometric red figure with a raised sledgehammer: "Those who know how to work aren't afraid to pay their taxes!"

Another display item shows a cartoon by Andrei Vokhmyakov, 13, with a fully outfitted U.S. soldier next to a Russian counterpart wearing only underwear emblazoned with a hammer and sickle. "Don't you have any equipment?" the American asks."Only when people paid taxes," the other replies.

Another picture - depicting one leafy half of a tree with roots labeled "taxes" and a bare half without any roots labeled "Don't cut it down" - came tumbling down during the opening. "You missed the most interesting part," quipped Pochinok to a latecomer. "The tax tree came down."

Another picture, not part of the exhibit, has been chosen to adorn 1 million postal envelopes. It shows a chick hatching from its egg, saying, "Where do I pay my taxes around here?"

Pochinok said Monday the Tax Ministry is still processing payments from March, for which the ministry set a target level of 35 billion rubles ($1.2 billion). The tax minister said last month that collections were likely to reach 40 billion rubles. February's take reached 41.5 billion rubles.

Analysts said last month that April could see record-high collections as natural-resource monopolies are now paying their taxes in cash as opposed to quasi-payments like promissory notes and commodities.

Meanwhile, reforms aimed at consolidating and simplifying the Tax Code as well as lowering the country's draconian tax rates are making their way through parliament, but slowly. The International Monetary Fund, which froze a promised $4.5 billion loan last year, has made tax reform a key condition for further financial aid.

This is by no means the first time tax authorities have engaged children in making good citizens out of their parents. Schoolchildren returning to classes in September 1998 after the previous month's financial crash were greeted with a stern message that they could be deprived of a free education if their parents failed to pay taxes.

Although Pochinok grinned from ear to ear Monday, tax collection is no laughing matter. Russia owes billions of dollars in foreign debt on top of having to pay a massive army of pensioners and public sector employees.

The tax minister declared last Friday that even Father Frost, Russia's version of Santa Claus, had paid his taxes.