In the caption to the previous photograph of Pyongyang at dusk I mentioned that North Korea was suffering severe electricity shortages, but here is one place in Pyongyang where the lights were burning bright.
This is the annual Arirang Festival – a dance and gymnastics extravaganza that is on a par with the opening ceremony of any Olympic Games. The difference is that the Olympic Games opening ceremonies are performed once every four years, but the Arirang Festival is performed six nights a week for two months (unless it rains) and involves 100,000 performers. The dance and gymnastic routines tell the story of the history of North Korea and the Workers’ Party Revolution with the assistance of backdrops that are formed by flashcards held by 20,000 school children. The flashcards change every 30-60 seconds throughout the 90 minute performance, and not once did I see a single card out of place.
The backdrop to this scene reads “Long live Kim Il Sung Korea”. This refers to President Kim Il Sung who died in 1994 but who still retains the title Eternal President. On several occasions when I was in North Korea I was asked to raise my glass of vodka “for a toast to the good health of the great leader President Kim Il Sung”. The current head of state, Kim Jung Il, does not carry the title of President. He rules the country in his capacity as General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Chairman of the National Defence Commission. He has been elected to those positions unopposed since his father’s death in 1994.
The dates in the stadium refer to the year of independence from Japan (1945) – or “our victory over the Japanese aggressors” as my North Korean guides put it – and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea (2005). The 8.15 at the top of the backdrop is not the time, but the date (August 15) that North Korea was liberated from Japan. This is the date that the Arirang Festival starts each year, and it continues through to October 10 which is the Founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea Day.