Take, for instance, Belgium's involvement in the Congo. Sure, I'd heard of Joseph Conrad's famous novel, Heart of Darkness (which I confess I've never read), and I even knew that it was the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now (which I've never seen). But I did NOT know that the novel was set in the Belgian Congo, or that it was inspired by Conrad's own experience working for a Belgian trading company in the Congo.
The building itself is a grand, Neoclassical palace, built to showcase the natural resources of the Congo to the rest of the world when it was still under Belgian rule. Stepping through the front doors, we found ourselves in a huge, marble-clad entry hall surmounted by a tall dome. There are gilt sculptures of idealized Europeans bringing charity and civilization to poor African children. It's not just a museum of African art and artifacts, but of colonialism itself.
I can't help but wonder if the decades of neglect had something to do with Belgium's unwillingness to take a good, long look at its colonial legacy in the Congo. It seems to me (as an outsider) that the history of the Congo is something that Belgium is doing its best to forget. In any case, I haven't seen or heard much about it since I've been here. I've even heard a couple of Belgians say something to the effect of, “Well, we don't have the problem with race/a history of slavery like you do in America.”
(A version of this post appears on the website of Fans of Flanders, an English-language TV show about expat life in Dutch-speaking Belgium.)