North Koreans instruct NATO border guards

North Korean instructor giving signals to the pixel-soldiers on the snow-stage. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

KIRKENES: Norway’s military border guards to Russia follow the signals of North Korean mass games instructors creating living pictures in a spectacular art-show.


It is first time in history a North Korean instructor has more than 200 uniformed NATO soldiers under command. The soldiers performed exemplary on the snow-stage built for the Barents Spektakel festival in Kirkenes, near Norway’s northern border to Russia.

“This is an A-ha experience,” says Morten Traavik, the artist that created the cultural connection between multi-cultural Kirkenes and the most closed nation in the world. He underlines that this is not a cooperation between North Korea and NATO, but a cultural collaboration between artists, the border guards and the festival.

The performance called ME/WE is a part of Traavik’s art project named “The Promised Land.”

Following signal-flags and command shouts from a North Korean is likely as far away from daily duty as these soldiers can get. Normally they are out in the ice-cold bush guarding Norway’s 196 kilometer long land border with Russia on ski or snowmobile.

Norwegian border guard soliders in Kirkenes.
Norwegian border guard soldiers awaiting instructions from North Koreans. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Each soldier turns over pages of a colorful flip-book, becoming one of the 256 pixels forming a large photo. When turned, another picture appears and so on. The photos are typical motives from the Norwegian, Russian border land and the Arctic. Several of the photos were taken by BarentsObserver’s photographers.

The mass games performance was accompanied by young musicians from Kum Song music school in Pyongyang that played an accordion version of “Take on Me” megahit by A-ha. A YouTube version of the North Korean teenagers playing the melody got more than one million viewers during this week.

View the BarentsObserver version of North-Koreans playing A-ha’s “Take on Me”

Mass game pixel image in Kirkenes 2012.
256 pixel-people sitting on a snow-stage forming a typical Barents Region image. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Barents Spektakel art-festival in Kirkenes is a cultural-political cocktail with contemporary art, performances, literature, theatre, film, seminars and concerts as ingredients, spiced with the current issues related to the Barents Region and the High North in general.

The North Koreans visited Barents Spektakel first time last year.

Read alsoNorth Korea wants cooperation with Barents

“Dare to Share” is the festival’s slogan for 2012.