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Military school for Russia's child tax cadets
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Children at the Moscow Cadet Corpus are being told about a new battlefront.
For the 10-year-olds, the enemy will not be found in Chechnya or the West, but closer to home in the war against Russia's tax evaders.
Youngsters in music class are learning an old Cossack song about a soldier who heroically pushes deeper into enemy lines, even after losing comrades in battle.
The song teaches them about bravery when their turn comes to go to the front.
But these cadets are in a feeding school for the Ministry of Tax Police, a branch of the Russian military charged with collecting taxes from those who fail to pay up.
It is the first and so far only school of its kind in Russia, where boys and girls from the age of 10 live and learn the basics of collecting taxes the hard way.
Colonel Valery Krug, who teaches the new recruits, admits children that young may not be ready to study the finer points of money laundering.
But he is convinced the school is teaches lessons for life.
"Our goal is to teach them discipline while they're still young. You can't be a good tax policeman without discipline."
Discipline is a theme that runs through everything the students do.
Six days a week, the live-in cadets wake to the shrill call of a peer commander who at 7a.m. cries: "Company, rise."
Half-dazed, the children set out on a morning run, often in darkness and snow, around a nearby pond.
After returning to the dorm, their rooms are examined to make sure they are tidy and the commander carries out a hygiene check of fingernails and ears.
After donning military uniforms, the children go to class. These range from an examination of socio-economic relations in ancient Babylon to kick-boxing lessons.
There are also courses in entrepreneurship and etiquette.
Teenage cadet Nastya Boyarkina's parents are both in the tax police. They say their daughter was never keen on dolls and instead has the family passion for the services.
"She's been dreaming about war since ever she was little. Our family's been in the service for generations.
"Some drove tanks, others were in the artillery. So it's natural that we're in the tax police," says Nastya's mother.
The tax police made notable victories in 2000. Revenue collection, according to official statistics, exceeded budget expectations by 50%.
When the final figures for 2000 are tallied, officials expect to have brought in 610 billion ruble ($21.5 billion).
It is a big gain from previous years when tax collection typically fell short of its goal by as much as 60%.
But the battle continues. By October 2, only 3.64 million Russians in a country of 144 million had filed their final returns for 1999.
Back at the school, Krug says the answer to tax evasion is to increase enforcement.
"People are afraid of the tax police in other countries. They know that their countries' prosperity depends on its ability to collect taxes.
"In Russia, everything's different. Not too long ago, we had no tax police at all. Our country needs a militarised force to start to collect taxes.
"Tax evasion is not a uniquely Russian mentality problem, just look at the Americans. They too were not willing to pay their taxes, and now they're some of the most law-abiding people.
"So we just need to force Russians to pay their taxes. Of course it's new them but they're going to have to get used to it someday."
Back in class, the students at the tax police school are learning to look and sound tough.
Even the poems they recite for a reception planned for Kremlin officials are sprinkled with warnings to would-be offenders.
"If you don't pay your taxes, we'll have to be tough on you," reads one line of verse.
But Nastya's father says the academy is more than just a military education.
"Our girl can learn how to be a woman here. She's learning dance, choreography and etiquette so she can develop into a woman and a mother, not just a military servant."
When students graduate, they can choose to continue their preparation for the tax police, or go their own way.
One teacher said that even if they do not join the force, at least they are more likely to pay their taxes -- and that is progress.
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