Interview with a Former Participant of Mass Games

[imText1]President Roh viewed the Arirang Performance on the 3rd of October during the Summit in Pyongyang.

Arirang has been arousing criticism because of harsh training, punishment, violation of students’ rights to study, and for spreading propaganda for the dictatorship.

Han Sung Ju, the secretary general of North Korean Youth for North Korea Human Rights, experienced mass games training in the early 1990s, when he was a middle school student.

The DailyNK listened to his frank perspective on President Roh’s viewing of the Arirang performance.

When did you participate in the mass games training?

It was in 1990s when I was a middle school student in Pyongyang.

Were there any standards to recruiting participants?

No, but if a school is designated as a school to host mass games training, most students of the school have to take part in it.

How long did it take to prepare for the performance?

The participants ranged from 2nd grade elementary school students to the 6th grade Junior High School students, that is, from 9 to 16 years old. The training started around September when we prepared a performance for the birthday of Kim Il Sung on April 15, so it took 8 months. For 6 months, we took the classes only in the morning and trained in the afternoon, and for the last 2 months we had to practice it all day long without studying.

Did you have holidays during the training period?

We did not have any Sundays off as long as the training was in session. We had to do repeated practice everyday. We were given a 10 break for every one and a half hours of training, and it continued from 1 to 11pm or 12am. When they called for a day-long training, it started at 10am and went until 10 or 11pm. It was so tough for a young child because of the lack of sleep and physical fatigue.

What was the training like?

Tens-thousand participants had to match each other, movement for movement, repeat and repeat to the point of fainting. Until we listen to the voice of director yelling, “let’s finish it,” we repeated one action tens of thousands of times.

What was the most difficult formation?

Making human towers. It is so hard to do that we could not practice it for a long time. The most difficult part was making our bodies flexible like the bodies of professional gymnasts. Imagine that ordinary students had to make their bodies as if flexible gymnasts’ bodies but in a short period of time.

How did they treat sick or weak students during the training?

Ambulances stood by always so that they could carry the students that faint off the field. In the summer, there were so many students passing out from heatstroke. Not all these students were taken to hospitals; only the most severe cases could go to hospitals. The rest of us were made to rest at the practice field.

Did they utilize corporal punishment or hit you?

The situation was different for each school. In my case, when a boy did a wrong move repeatedly, the teacher scolded him and left the site. Then, the rest of students kicked him and gave him a hard time. It was because the other students got in trouble because of the one student’s error and were made to repeat that part of the training all over again.

Do you have anything to say to President Roh who viewed the Arirang performance?

Once you view Arirang, you can assume how the participants suffered from it. President Roh should have asked Kim Jong Il if he knew whether the students took part in it voluntarily or how much the students suffered from it.

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