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Mass Games and Students’ Human Rights

Posted August. 06, 2010 11:21,   


May Day Stadium in Pyongyang is located on the islet Rungrado in the Daedong River. The facility can accommodate 100,000 people, 30,000 more than Seoul’s Jamsil Stadium. With no roof, the stadium is directly exposed to the burning sun in summer. On a hot summer afternoon, more than 20,000 students participating in the Arirang performance, or the Mass Games, began flocking to the bridge crossing to Rungrado. Pyongyang has 18 districts, including Chung and Pyongchon. Each district forms a team and the best performing unit is seated on the opposite side of the box seats.

The Mass Games is the world’s largest gala of gymnastics and artistic performances and listed in the Guinness Book of Records. Aimed at promoting the North’s communist regime and earning dollars, the event is also notorious for human rights violations of young students. According to North Korean defectors, one student died in training because he could not receive emergency care after his appendix was ruptured. Pyongyang honored him with the Kim Il Sung Youth Award posthumously.

Many students suffer muscle and ligament ruptures and fractures due to repeated moves, not to mention malnutrition and anemia. Quite a few develop dysuria, or difficult or painful urination, and cystitis since they are given little water and prevented from going to the bathroom. A wrong move in training earns them a beating with a stick. Since preparation for the performance takes from six months to a year, participating students either make up classes during vacations or delay graduation. In this year’s first Arirang performance that opened Monday, a “special friendship performance” was added to highlight friendly relations between the North and China.

In South Korea, the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education has presented rules on upholding the human rights of students, including a ban on corporal punishment and allowing liberal hairstyles and dress codes. Schools are also urged to allow students freedom of thought, assembly and association. It is wrong, however, to give young students the same rights as adults. Should they go in the wrong direction, they need to be corrected through scolding and physical punishment if necessary. The real problem is human rights violations suffered by North Korean students. Those in South Korea study under a much more favorable environment than their parents. Human rights rules are instead needed for North Korean students, who are being deprived of their right to study for the sake of earning hard cash and promoting propaganda for their totalitarian government.

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)