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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea will halt performances of a new mass games propaganda event on June 10, tour companies operating in the country told NK News on Monday, just two days after leader Kim Jong Un was reported to have attended its opening night and issued a rare criticism of the show’s producers.
The “People’s Country grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance” was staged the following night on June 4 without any major changes to the program, however, despite the criticisms from the DPRK leader.
But Simon Cockerell, a tour manager for Koryo Tours, on Wednesday said the event is expected to run until June 10, but that it will then “stop for anything from ‘several days’ to ‘some weeks’ for some revisions to be made.”
Young Pioneer Tours, who led a tour to the opening night on Monday, also reported the mass games “may be temporarily halted” on June 10, according to their sources.
In a Tuesday morning report in state media on Kim’s attendance the night before, he was said to have ”called creators of the performance and seriously criticized them” following the event.
This, he reportedly explained, was due to “their wrong spirit of creation and irresponsible work attitude, pointing to the contents and forms of works.”
“Noting that the creators and artistes in the literature and art sector have a very important duty in socialist cultural construction, he set forth important tasks for correctly implementing the revolutionary policy of our Party on literature and art,” the report added.
Given the absence of any major change in the performance a night later, it remains unclear to which aspects he was referring in his criticisms.
Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said the criticism “builds on state media’s noticeably increased emphasis of the importance of carrying out propaganda work ‘in a novel way.’”
This, she said, is a “principle that Kim Jong Un stressed in his letter to a national propaganda functionaries’ meeting in March,” adding that such criticism tracks with Kim’s recent focus on the subject.
One change in the “People’s Country” event from the “Glorious Country”-titled event from 2018 considered a possible target of the leader’s criticism was the introduction of a section in the finale dedicated to Kim Jong Un.
The section featured a song and a newly-introduced official illustrated portrait displayed in the flip-card backdrop, which returned on the second day of the performance Tuesday night despite Kim’s complaints.
Another change from 2018 came in the section on Korean unification, which no longer contained images of Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in together during their summits last year.
The only noticeable change between Monday and Tuesday’s shows, according to a tour company representative familiar with the programs from both, was the absence of the drone light show – possibly due to weather or other technical issues, however.
Kim Jong Il in 1987 said the mass games “foster particularly healthy and strong physiques, a high degree of organization, discipline and collectivism in schoolchildren.”
“The schoolchildren, conscious that a single slip in their action may spoil their mass gymnastic performance, make every effort to subordinate all their thoughts and actions to the collective,” he said in a speech to creators of the performances.
High-profile defector Thae Yong-ho, who formerly served as the DPRK’s deputy ambassador to the UK, recently criticized the mass games as “inhumane displays” where “children, aged from six to nine, cannot go to school for six months” while they practice and perform in the events.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCTV