North Korea is suspending its massive, over-the-top annual propaganda celebration after Kim Jong Un said it wasn't good enough this year

Wikimedia CommonsNorth Korea’s Mass Games, held in Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium, in 2018.
  • North Korea will suspend its glitzy, months-long propaganda festival next Monday because Kim Jong Un didn’t like the opening performance, two Beijing-based tour operators confirmed on Wednesday.
  • The country’s Mass Games opened this Monday and was set to run until October. It typically features 100,000 citizens performing synchronised gymnastic routines in line with North Korean propaganda.
  • According to Reuters, state-run media reported earlier this week that Kim told the event’s organisers that the performances showed the “wrong spirit of creation and irresponsible work attitude.”
  • It’s not entirely clear what specifically he did not like about the performances.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

North Korea is pausing its months-long, over-the-top propaganda festival just a few days into the ceremony because the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, said it wasn’t up to scratch, two Beijing-based tour operators said.

The Mass Games is a gigantic gymnastics performance held at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium every year, featuring some 100,000 people performing synchronised dances, marches, and aerobics. (Kim Jong Il, Kim’s father and predecessor, said in 1987 that the group performances underlined the importance of communism.)

This year’s ceremony – themed “The Land of the People” – was scheduled to take place from June to October.

But on Wednesday, Young Pioneer Tours and Koryo Tours, which organise tours to North Korea, confirmed that the show would be suspended starting next Monday because of Kim’s dissatisfaction.

North Koreans perform in a 'Mass Games' gymnastic and artistic display at the May Day Stadium on October 18, 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea.GettyThe Mass Games in Pyongyang in October.

It’s not clear what Kim disliked about this year’s performance.

According to Reuters, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said Kim had called up the organisers after Monday’s opening ceremony and “seriously criticised them for their wrong spirit of creation and irresponsible work attitude.”

KCNA said Kim also gave the event organisers “important tasks” to rectify their mistakes, though it didn’t specify what those were.

“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, according to Reuters.

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2019 mass games north koreaKCNAThis year’s Mass Games in Pyongyang.

Simon Cockerell, the general manager of Koryo Tours, told Reuters that he had “no ideas what part he didn’t like about it,” adding that the company “had people there for both nights it has run so far and they very much enjoyed it.”

Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst at NK Pro, told the BBC that Kim has often publicly criticised public departments and work performance, including for poor tree-planting.

And after Kim earlier this year called for a more “novel” approach to the country’s propaganda, state media increased its coverage of it, as well as its calls against the “bourgeoisie ways of life” and “non-socialist phenomena,” Lee told the BBC.

KCTV, North Korea’s state-controlled news channel, also underwent a dramatic makeover last year, replacing its long-term anchor Ri Chun Hee – also known as the “Pink Lady” – with younger reporters.

KCNA on Tuesday described the show as full of “beautiful and graceful rhythmic movements, high-spirited gymnastics, interesting national emotion and rich artistic depiction.”

On Wednesday, it posted a four-minute video of spectators clapping and celebrating at Monday’s opening ceremony.

Among the applauders was Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s sister, who analysts previously speculated had fallen out of favour with Kim after she wasn’t seen in public for more than 50 days.

Read more:
Kim Jong Un’s mysterious sister, who helps him govern but was rumoured to have fallen from favour, just appeared next to him at a major event

Critics of the Mass Games say the event ignores North Korea’s human-rights controversies. Daily NK, a news site run by North Korean defectors, has also reported on schoolchildren undergoing months of strict training for their performances, according to Reuters.

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