Over 500 foreign performers are expected to attend the upcoming April Spring Friendship Art Festival (ASFAF) in Pyongyang, the organizer of a cultural tour there said on Tuesday, with a high probability the event will clash with looming U.S.-ROK joint military drills.
The international event, which takes place in April every two years, is currently featured prominently on North Korea’s Uriminzokkiri website, which launched a dedicated web section late last year to promote the 2018 ASFAF event.
“We are in the process of inviting a few international performance groups this year, one of which could be a very special orchestra which could perform together with DPR Korea musicians,” Michael Spavor, Managing Director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange organization told NK News on Tuesday.
“If this project works out it could be the highlight of the festival, but we are not able to say yet who they are or what country they will be coming from.”
Spavor said that 500 performers “from around the world including Russia, SE Asia, and many… Western European countries” would be joining the event, which publicity material says is intended to promote “friendship, solidarity, and cooperation” among international artists and workers.
But the timing of the event, between April 11-18, is notable: almost certain to coincide with annual joint U.S.-ROK military exercises that were previously delayed due to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Prior ASFAF events haven’t historically clashed with the joint drills, which are usually fully complete by mid-April and which DPRK state media has regularly condemned.
Fyodor Tertitskiy, an analyst at NK Pro, said the creation of a microsite to promote the event in late 2017 suggested that North Korea “may want to attract a larger audience (this year).”
“However, it is quite interesting that the site is not promoted by other DPRK media, so this may just be some local initiative,” he said.
No mention of the forthcoming 2018 event is yet to emerge on North Korea’s main state media websites.
Despite ongoing inter-Korean rapprochement, it is currently unknown if South Korean performers will be among the invited performers.
“PCE and our staff have been invited to participate again this year and we have been allowed to bring some guests with us so anyone can join us,” Spavor said, noting tourists are not normally allowed to attend the event.
North Korea launched the ASFAF back in 1982 as a way to celebrate the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung’s 70th birthday and to commemorate his accomplishments after his death in July 1994.
“The ASFAF Organizing Committee shall cover the expenses for lodging and boarding, local transportation, medical care and pocket money for all festival participants during their stay in Pyongyang,” a notification to participants says on the Uriminzokkiri website.
Videos of previous events showed ballerinas from Russia, musicians from Italy, singers from Spain and other countries performing local folk songs before the DPRK audiences.
Spavor, however, said the event continues to take place annually, but that the international part is now once every two years.
North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported that the previous ASFAF in 2016 drew performers from 20 different countries, including the U.S., Japan, Russia, France, China, Thailand, Mongolia, Vietnam, Italy, Peru, Cuba, Cyprus, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Chad O’Carroll contributed to this report
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: dprktourism.com.my
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