Never mind the purging of hundreds of his family members or the bizarrely ominous faxes threatening war with the South. And never mind anything having to do with Dennis Rodman. What Kim Jong-un really wants the international media to focus on is the $300 million ski resort his impoverished nation is building.
Kim visited the Masik Pass Ski Resort earlier this month, and promised that the resort would be open for the masses by the end of the year (which is today). The ski resort is not open, which should shock no one with any knowledge of the way government projects work in North Korea. Kim did announce that the ski resort would open “as soon as possible” and hopes to give it lights so that resort-goers can use the hills in the dark. This is a major economic investment in a country known for its near-medieval lack of electricity.
North Korea’s new agency KCNA describes the project as “world class” and quotes Kim as saying that the ski resort was “at the centre of the world’s attention” and that “‘everyone would marvel’ at its magnificence.” The only country significantly paying attention to this resort and not, say, to the potentially-drunk massive purges the young Kim has executed in the past month, has been Switzerland. North Korea initially hoped to buy ski lifts in bulk from the mountainous nation, but Switzerland refused to participate in what it deemed a “propaganda project.” This came as a blow to Kim, who studied in Switzerland and learned to ski there. It also leaves the question of where the ski lifts in the photos of Kim visiting the resort came from and who manufactured them open ended. If they are the products of North Korean construction, the odds that they are a safety hazard and/or were built in a labor camp are high.
The Masik ski resort is not the first major recreational project Kim has undertaken since becoming ruler of North Korea. In fact, the list of bizarre projects making for an unsettling despotic Neverland Ranch–from a water park in Pyongyang unveiled with a lavish military parade to a “mini-world” park adorned with global landmarks–has become the rule more than the exception for Kim’s reign. Given that only North Korean state media can report on the ground there, it is impossible to tell whether any North Koreans actually use these amenities or if they are built simply for the photos (or if they are actually completed).
The ski resort PR campaign is just beginning, however, as the leader’s second trip to the slopes serves as a reminder that they missed a deadline yet again, and the truly over-the-top celebrations of the place will happen when it opens–if it opens.