"King Leopold II was a visionary hero"

Louis Michel, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and a former Belgian Foreign Minister, has taken the defence of Leopold II. He was the King of the Belgians when Congo was still a Belgian colony, but his policy in Congo was controversial as both the country with its rich natural resources and the local population were exploited.

In the weekly P-Magazine, Louis Michel calls Leopold II "an ambitious visionary". "Instinctively I feel that he was a hero, a hero who had ambitions for a small country like Belgium", Michel is quoted as saying by P-Magazine.

In the interview, Louis Michel is confronted with a number of "accusations" against the former Belgian king. One of them is that Leopold II changed Congo into one giant labour camp, and that he got rich at the dispense of the local population.

"That's a false accusation. Leopold II does not deserve such a reproach. The Belgians built railways, schools and hospitals and stimulated economic growth in Congo. A labour camp? Not at all. At that time, this was just the manner of working."

Michel, a former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development, admits that at a certain stage Belgium ruled over Congo trying to acquire sheer power. "But eventually civilisation was introduced."

Michel adds that many tend to overreact when talking about the Belgian colonial times in Congo, although he admits that "some things did go wrong."

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