[Outlook]More than a gameOn the evening of Oct. 23, 2000, in the May Day Stadium on Rungra Island in the Daedong River, which runs through Pyongyang, a show employing 100,000 people at a time was staged to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Workers’ Party. The show was titled “The Invincible Workers’ Party.”
The stadium, the world’s third-largest, could hold 150,000 people. Chilly winds blew along the river and scattered the sound of the audience’s shouts.
To the right of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sat and to his left sat Wendy Sherman, the U.S. North Korea policy coordinator. Next to them were U.S. government officials from the White House and the State Department. With three months to go before U.S. President Bill Clinton’s retirement, Albright flew to Pyongyang. She was the highest-ranking U.S. figure to visit Pyongyang in the history of North Korea-U.S. relations. The two countries were just starting to have exchanges. To cover the historic events, dozens of foreign journalists flew from Washington to Pyong-yang. I was working as a correspondent in Washington so I also went.
I could see Kim Jong-il some 30 meters in front of me. Two bodyguards in military uniform stood right behind him. Kim had piercing eyes, like those of a venomous snake. Thunderous shouts arose. The show had started. Thousands of children, students, citizens and soldiers in colorful clothes carrying banners moved in unison as if they were a single body. The card-turners’ performance was like a computer-graphic. Performers cried out in unison and the audience made a clamor. Their sounds spread out from Rungra Island to the Daedong River.
The card-turners showed a scene of nuclear fission. That implied that North Korea would develop nuclear weapons. The scene became reality six years later.
Another scene made of cards showed the launch of a satellite. That was a symbol of the long-range missile that flew across Japan.
At the climax, hundreds of soldiers stormed into the arena holding guns with swords tied to them. They performed bayonet drills and smashed objects as a group. Suddenly, the soldiers ran toward the VIP section, raising a battle cry. At that moment, the card-turners showed a sign that read: “Those who confront us will not survive on this planet.”
Inside the bus heading for a hotel, the correspondents were in shock. They used such words as “incredible,” “unimaginable” or “shocking.” A journalist said, “That was something that Lenin, Stalin, Ceausescu and Mao Zedong could not do and nobody in the future will be able to do.”
He was right. No one else could do it ― not Nazis, fascists, kamikaze pilots, Red Guards or Saddam Hussein.
Years later when I returned to Seoul, stories about the training of performers for a North Korean mass game started spreading.
Training goes on for months under the sizzling sun. Young children can’t urinate for long periods of time because they are not allowed to leave the training. Instructors whip them.
President Roh Moo-hyun will watch the mass game tomorrow in that same arena. The original work, “The Invincible Workers’ Party,” was revised as “Arirang.” The show has been modified many times and it is said to be less aggressive. For instance, a scene in which North Korean soldiers knock down South Korean and U.S. soldiers is gone. Particularly, tomorrow’s show will not contain scenes that South Korea’s president would feel uncomfortable watching. However, this does not change the essence of the mass game. The show will retain its slogans, “Kim Il Sung’s people” and “Kim Il Sung’s country.”
The president of South Korea must not forget how North Korea’s mass games were created and how they were developed. He must know the show’s intended goal and message. He also must know that poor young children’s lives were ruined while shouting the regime’s slogans.
The South Korean unification minister said he felt the show was sentimental or majestic. A senior lawmaker of the new party said the show reminded him of the opera “Aida.” If the president feels the same way or regards watching the performance the same as watching an opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, he is not qualified to lead South Korea.
South Korea is confronting North Korea. North Korea’s regime has regimented its people in the most terrible way in the history of humankind. The Reungra Island stadium is a place that demonstrates the result of this.
Tomorrow, the moonlight will shine bright on the Rungra Island but not in the hearts of the North Korean people shout for the show.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin