June 5, 2019
By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – Days after this year’s “Mass Games” debuted before North Korea’s top leadership, the huge pageant has been put on hold after leader Kim Jong Un expressed his dissatisfaction, foreign tour groups said on Wednesday.
Kim and his wife were among the elite at the premiere of the games on Monday in Pyongyang, but North Korea’s leader was unhappy with the event’s organizers, state media said.
The performances are being paused to allow organizers to fix the unspecified shortcomings, according to two Western companies that take foreign tourists to North Korea.
“The Mass Games may be temporarily halted from June 10th due to Kim Jong Un dissatisfaction with the opening performance,” Young Pioneer Tours said on Twitter.
Koryo Tours tweeted that “there will be a pause for some days/weeks while the show is adjusted before being launched again – we wait to see what will change and when it will restart.”
It is unclear exactly what Kim objected to, said Simon Cockerell, general manager at Koryo Tours.
“No ideas what part he didn’t like about it,” he told Reuters. “We have had people there for both nights it has run so far and they very much enjoyed it.”
He said his company does not pay for Mass Games tickets in advance, so he expected minimum disruption to future tours.
State news agency KCNA said Kim had “extended warm greetings” and thanks to the performers, many whom are children. He later called the creators and “seriously criticized them for their wrong spirit of creation and irresponsible work attitude, pointing to the contents and forms of works,” KCNA said.
“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,” KCNA said.
After reviving the huge performances last year to sell an image of international engagement and peace while raising much-needed foreign currency, North Korea told tour companies in March that it would be hosting the event again this year.
Last September’s Mass Games were the first in five years and part of a carefully choreographed weekend of events designed to highlight Kim’s diplomatic campaign and plans for economic development.
Those themes were present in this year’s show, but there were some changes, including for the first time huge images of Kim Jong Un alongside the usual portraits of his father and grandfather, according to attendees.
The Mass Games are a major draw for tourists, most of them from China, but the inclusion of thousands of child performers has been criticized by rights groups as tantamount to forced child labor, and testimonies collected by defector groups describe harsh training regimes.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; editing by Darren Schuettler)