Provocative clothing and accessories banned from Tomorrowland

  • Attendees at the Tomorrowland electronic music festival will not be permitted from wearing anything that could be deemed ideological or political.
  • What are the exact parameters? The ruling, introduced by the municipalities of Rumst and Boom, does not make it clear. The police will decide on a case-by-case basis.
  • “A line has been crossed,” warn civil liberties advocates.


The 180,000 party-animals expected at the ninth edition of the Tomorrowland festival, which starts on Friday in the province of Antwerp, will need to take a minute before they decide what they are going to wear to the gathering. The measure had largely gone unnoticed until now, but since 2010, a local ruling has forbidden participants from wearing clothes or accessories that make an explicit reference to an ideology or religion from entering the site, which straddles the municipalities of Rumst and Boom.


National flags, however, will still be tolerated. It is worth mentioning that the event attracts visitors from 200 countries around the world, and that the image of participants draping their national colors around themselves has become intrinsically linked with this enormous festival.


Out go crosses, rasta caps, Stars of David, Che Guevara t-shirts and keffiyehs, then? “In theory, yes…” confirms Patrick Poppe, head of PR for the municipality of Boom. “But the measure is mainly aimed at people who are not in a ‘peace and love’ state of mind, such as racists and football hooligans,” he continues. Indeed, it was a confrontation between Bruges and Standard Liège troublemakers that lit the torch paper back in 2010. Since then, the parties in power (N-VA/CD&V/Open VLD in Boom; N-VA/CD&V in Rumst) decided that there would be no more brawls at Tomorrowland.


“Especially when alcohol is involved, things can escalate quickly,” adds the Boom spokesman. At the site entrance and inside the perimeter, the police will ensure that festival-goers, all geared up for the day’s events, are not wearing any clothing or accessories that could possibly provoke any disturbances. The rule is also in effect in camping areas. Which objective criteria will be used when applying the rule? Poppe struggles to clarify the matter: “I doubt that the police would deny entry to a participant because he has a cross around his neck. The goal is rather to pinpoint high-risk groups. There’s the law, and then there’s the spirit of the law.”


The organizers seem ill at ease with the measure and confined themselves to the following simple statement: “The police will ensure the application of the ruling”. On the other hand, the Center for Equal Opportunities has serious doubts as to the legitimacy of the measure.

“It seems disproportionate when compared to the stated objective, which is to avoid public order offences,” says Patrick Charlier, the center’s deputy director. “The problem is that,” he adds, quickly, “as it goes back three years, it’s too late to request an annulment from the Council of State. The deadline has passed. The person discriminated against can only claim compensation and damages ranging from €650 to €1,300.”


Do the bans flirt with illegality? Do they also pose ethical questions? Marc Jacquemain, professor of sociology at the University of Liège, believes so. “It’s fashionable to ban things, but I happen to think that we’re crossing a red line here. This measure does nothing but lead us toward a sterilized society, one which has less and less tolerance for signs of identity. The way we’re going, soon people will be forbidden from putting an ‘I love my dog’ sticker on their cars!”


The sociologist points out that he is not familiar with the real risks evaluated by the police and municipal authorities, but he does identify a stigma: “There have been a lot of accusations leveled at religion, and at Muslims in particular, in terms of freedom of speech and telling people what to wear, but in this case, the same thing is happening.”


Contested or supported, the measure will, whatever happens, be a sure topic of conversation under the tents of Tomorrowland on Friday.



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