Ordinary North Koreans indifferent to founding anniversary fanfare

North Korean children participant in the Arirang Mass Games. Image: Chinese tourist identified only by the ID “shanlu”

Students in North Korea have been enduring grueling hours of preparation for the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s national founding day on September 9, report sources in the country’s capital. The revamped mass performance events will be accompanied by a military parade.

“Most students from elementary to high school in Pyongyang, especially those in the central zone, are set to participate in the events. Just like it is for the Arirang Mass Games, youth workers at factories including the Kim Jong Suk Textile Factory have also been mobilized to participate in the new mass games,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on September 5.

The Arirang mass games began in 2002 (but were suspended in 2013) and typically conscript over 100,000 elementary, middle school and university students from Pyongyang every year. Equipment including clothes, shoes, cards, artificial flowers, handheld flags, folding fans, and pole vaults become a burden for participants learning each routine, with training lasting for 4-5 months, significantly impacting each student’s school attendance and other commitments.

According to the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry, the “mass games have become a major source of foreign currency revenue for the DPRK (the abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name). They attract large numbers of tourists, who are often unaware of the human rights violations endured by participating children, who are compelled to participate (unless their physical appearance does not meet the state-determined ideal). Training will often last an entire year, including 4-6 months during which the participants train all day at the expense of their schooling. Training practice is grueling. Children who do not perfect their performances are subjected to physical punishment and additional evening training.”

Following this damning indictment there was speculation that children would not be part of the revamped games; however, current preparations suggest the North Korean authorities have paid no heed to international concerns.

KCNA said that the new mass games performance will be of a similar scale to the Arirang mass games but with “new content.” According to the source, the official propaganda and alleged achievements of its leaders in the country’s 70-year history will remain at the center of the performance, which international press outlets and tourists alike are slated to report on.

According to DPRKorea Tour, VIP tickets are 800 EUR, 1st Class tickets are 500 Euro, 2nd Class are 300 EUR, and 100 EUR will buy a “3rd Class Ticket.”

For their part, many North Koreans have decidedly less jubilant feelings about the national holiday and its corresponding events, according to a separate source in Pyongyang.

“Most residents have no particular expectations about the events, as they have endured all sorts of mandatory labor demands of varying scales for political events during their lifetime. But they’re looking forward to the potential for special distributions to overlap with the September 9 celebrations,” he said.

“Events around political holidays and anniversaries tend to bring more complaints than anticipation. In this case, the parents of the mobilized students find it particularly distressing.”

Although witnessing their children being subjected to grueling mandatory training plays a significant part, so too do the requirements to “make sacrifices for the country” by preparing food for the rehearsals. The requests for such sacrifices come “every 20-25 days” according to the source.