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[Opinion] The Suffering behind North Korea’s Arirang Card Display

[Opinion] The Suffering behind North Korea’s Arirang Card Display

Posted October. 10, 2005 03:03,   


Many people in their forties and fifties who attended middle and high school during the 1970s and 80s will remember participating in card sections.

Without fail, major events such the national sports festival attended by very important people always had card sections. Students sat the bleachers and created words or images with colorful cards under the instructions of the conductor. Regular features were the national Korean flag Taegukki, national flower Mugunghwa (rose of Sharon), and the portrait of the president.

The vitality of the card section depends on perfect synchronization. A mistake by a single individual will create a flaw in the piece, so students trained for one to two months before the event, sometimes even by skipping classes. If they made a mistake during practice, they were summoned by the teacher in charge and scolded. With criticism arising in the late 80s that the card sections abused students and interfered with their curriculum, it disappeared. The card sections can be seen today in places like soccer stadiums, are voluntary ones prepared by fans.

North Korea, with more festivals and events than any other country in the world, is a card section power. Card sections were held since the 1950s at all types of commemoration days such as the birthday of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, the foundation of the Worker’s Party, the foundation of the armed forces, and the commemoration of liberation day. Usually, students are mobilized for such events. Even now at the Pyongyang Arirang show, 20,000 students create splendid card images everyday. Large-scale mass gymnastics are also being performed. North Korea publicizes the solidness of its regime through this synchronization.

The Daily NK, a website focusing on North Korea, reported vivid testimony from North Korean defectors about the card sections. Many students have bleeding noses during practice due to fatigue, and if they miss a movement they are mercilessly beaten. Many children also suffer from bladder inflammation because they are not allowed to go to the bathroom for prolonged periods. It is just terrible that North Korea’s splendid card sections displays are built on the suffering of young students. Their human rights are being ruthlessly violated as they are trapped inside a gigantic paper prison. I hope South Koreans who go see the Arirang performance in North Korea also see the distress of the children. After all, can they just applaud and shout out “nation” at the suffering of the young children in it?

Song Young Eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com