Last weekend, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders posted an image online of himself dressed in blackface.

He was taking part in a rally in Brussels organized by Les Noirauds, a society founded in 1876 under patronage of the Belgian monarchy that raises funds for children's charities. The society distinguishes itself by dressing up as supposed "African noblemen" --blackening their faces while wearing anachronistic top hats and white ruffs. Reynders described the tradition as a bit of "joy and good humor."

But many are not impressed.

"Shame on you," wrote Peter Bouckaert, a Belgian national and leading researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a tweet that included an image of Reynders in blackface.

"This man presents an image of our nation abroad," said Wouter Van Bellingen, head of the Minorities Forum, a rights group in Belgium. "This in unacceptable."

In the United States, of course, blackface carries a deeply racist legacy of slavery, segregation and discrimination toward African Americans. That echoes less in Europe, though critics argue that traditions of blackface there -- including the annual Dutch practice of dressing up as Zwarte Piet, a black-faced trickster -- come from a similar context.

Les Noirauds were formed near the height of Europe's scramble for Africa. When not invading territories and planting their flags, various European colonial powers went about duping and co-opting African notables into subservience.

Belgium has a particularly noxious history of imperialism in Africa. In 1877, Belgium's King Leopold II began investing and exploring in what's now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo Free State that emerged in the mid-1880s was anything but: The whole territory was a direct property of the Belgian monarch, whose colonial agents turned it into a vast, hideous labor camp. By some accounts, the population of the colony declined under Leopold's watch from 20 million to 8 million -- a direct consequence of Belgian greed and savagery.

And yet defenders of blackface traditions in the Netherlands and Belgium insist that it's all fun and games, with no bearing on the social inequities of the present or the misdeeds of the past.

"In other civilized countries his political career wouldn't survive this," tweeted Nigerian-born author Chika Unigwe, who is based in Belgium, referring to Reynders. "But in Belgium he just continues."