About the Author
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Correction on July 18: A previous version of this article included images which were said to show mass games practices in Pyongyang, when it appears the pictured practices were likely for a torch parade set to take place surrounding the same holiday. The article has been amended to reflect this fact.
North Korea is set to begin holding a new “mass games” event for the first time in five years on September 9, a Beijing-based tour company confirmed on Monday.
A promotional page on the Koryo Tours website said the performances – which will likely bear a strong resemblance to the “Arirang” mass games of the past – are at present scheduled to run from September 9-30, with a “small chance (they) may be extended in to early October.”
The frequency or number of performances is not yet known.
Koryo Tours co-founder Nick Bonner told NK News that the ticket price for general admission will be 80 euros – the same as it was for the Arirang event last held in 2013 – but that other “first-class” or other premium package pricing had not yet been provided.
Bonner also said that while the September 9 opening date was officially announced Monday by his North Korean counterparts, he is not yet sure if tourists will be allowed to attend the first show.
Referring to the possibility that Kim Jong Un may be in attendance on that day, he said that “at times, we’ve been allowed to go on the first day when the leader’s there, but we weren’t allowed to take cameras, but at other times we’ve not been allowed to go.”
Another company offering tours to North Korea, Young Pioneer Tours, has the event listed in a package also indicating the September 9 date.
Groups of North Koreans were first spotted in May practicing outdoors in several Pyongyang locations ahead of the coming event.
If “Brilliant Fatherland” – the tentative English translation of the official name formerly provided to Koryo Tours – is similar to the Arirang Mass Games of the past, the number of participants will likely be in the tens of thousands.
Ranging in age from young school children to older, seasoned gymnasts, acrobats, and other performers, participants in the past were known to practice in a variety of locations, including schoolyards and other open outdoor spaces.
North Korea has been accused of overworking and exploiting the participants in “Arirang” and other mass games events in the past.
A UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea, released in 2014, described the mass games as “compulsory mass propaganda events.”
The event attracts “large numbers of tourists, who are often unaware of the human rights violations endured by participating children, who are compelled to participate,” the report says.
Created largely with the help of defector testimony, that report detailed “grueling” training sessions “all day at the expense of (children’s) schooling.”
On the other hand, there has also been testimony describing the pride some felt in their participation in such events despite the difficult training.
For its part, North Korea officially described the Arirang games through state-run outlet KCNA in 2013 – surrounding the same September 9 holiday – as “Juche-based culture and arts” which instill “great national pride and honor into all service personnel and people.”
The lead-up to this year’s event has seen public practice ongoing throughout June, according to multiple sources inside Pyongyang, typically in large squares and gathering spaces such Kim Il Sung Square, the banks of the Taedong River, the area surrounding the Arch of Triumph, and the Rungrado May Day Stadium where the event is expected to once again be held.
North Korean state media has yet to release any information directly referencing or announcing the new event.
It has also not yet been added to the North’s National Tourism Administration (NTA) website, which lists other “festivals and events” including the recent international trade expo in Pyongyang.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun