The North Korean “grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance” — known unofficially as the “mass games” — will begin in June and run over two months longer than last year, according to various tour companies.
Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) announced in a blog post Sunday that the event would be “starting in late June this year and running all the way through October,” while Koryo Tours announced Monday it would begin in “early June.”
The precise opening date for the event this year remains unconfirmed, however, with a representative from Koryo Tours telling NK News on Monday that information is being relayed through their North Korean partners.
The event will, however, carry a new name, the tour group said: “The People’s Country” (인민의 나라).
It was confirmed in March that the show would return again this year after a five-year hiatus between the last “Arirang”-titled event in 2013 and the updated “Glorious Country” event running from September 9 through November 4 last year.
Young students were spotted in early April practicing for the mass games in Pyongyang’s public spaces, and preparations were observed to be underway inside the May Day Stadium (also known as Rungrado Stadium, where the event is typically held) later the same month.
These preparations represented an earlier start than last year, when similar public practices did not begin until early June and changes inside the stadium did not occur until late July.
While the event ran from early August through October from 2010-2012 and even began in late July in 2013, this year’s June start represents one of the earliest in years.
Outdoor practices are expected to continue until the first show and throughout the running, which, according to patterns in previous years, will see five or more shows per week over its over-four-month-long run.
Though North Korea officially describes the event as a display of “Juche Chosun’s single-minded unity,” a 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in the DPRK 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,” that report said.
Tourist seating and pricing information for this year’s event will remain largely identical to last year’s, Koryo Tours announced, with over 1500 seats available for purchase for foreign tourists.
Most (1150) will be third class seats priced at 100 euros each, with 270 second class seats priced at 300 euros each, 70 first class seats for 500 euros each, and 30 VIP seats for 800 euros each.
The vast remainder of seats in the stadium are reserved for North Koreans, who typically pay a much smaller fee in local currency.
The increased number of shows this year, then, could see the organizing committee in charge of the mass games earn around 10 million euros extra in ticket sales to foreigners in addition to the extra earnings from locals.
It is unlikely all available seats for foreigners will be sold each night, however.
And while others in the tourism industry could also see a boost with more foreign tourists entering the country, North Korea’s primary motivation in holding the event is likely related to its domestic propagandist value.
New additions to the 2018 event that may return this year included a synchronized drone light show and 3D video projected upon a new white flooring covering the stadium’s field.
Many aspects are expected to remain similar in 2019, with different chapters covering themes such as Korean unification, economic development, and friendship with foreign countries.
But one potentially significant change to watch for this year would be the return of references in the mass games to the country’s nuclear or space programs, left out of the 2018 show amid a positive trajectory in relations with the U.S. and South Korea.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Eric Lafforgue
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