BRUSSELS (Reuters) - At the entrance to Belgium's Museum for Central Africa stands a giant golden statue of a European missionary with an African boy clutching his robes, along with a plaque that reads: "Belgium brings civilization to Congo".
Guido Gryseels, the museum's director, says it's a delicate balancing act.
"We will be very critical, but what we want to do is provide the elements to the visitor so that he can make up his own mind. There are a lot of good things that happened too.
"What was realized in terms of infrastructure, roads, airports, ports, education, health facilities, research, is really quite incredible," he said.
Some people reject that position outright. Belgium left just a few dozen Congolese university graduates and an economy built chiefly to supply Belgium with raw materials. Even today, there is just 2,000 km (1,250 miles) of paved road in a nation the size of Western Europe.
Millions of Congolese are estimated to have died and the country was decimated between 1885 and 1908 after King Leopold II declared Congo his personal property.
The king's troops were ordered to collect the hands of victims, often shot for resisting slave labor, to prove they had not wasted bullets. Leopold even imported Congolese for a human zoo to show life in the country he never visited. Some died of influenza and are buried near the museum.
Adam Hochschild, author of "King Leopold's Ghost", an acclaimed 1998 book that describes Leopold's unrestrained plunder of Congo, told Reuters he has been surprised at many Belgians' ignorance of what happened in colonial times.
Belgian Ludo De Witte, the author of a book that exposed Belgian complicity in the murder of Patrice Lumumba, who helped win Congo's independence, said it is an issue that Belgium's political and business elite would rather sweep under the rug.