'We offended important people' - How a Hungarian historical institute met its end
The 1956 Institute has always been a sore spot for Hungarian governing party Fidesz, as they never provided scientific support for the party's ideas about Hungarian history. A government decree signed at the beginning of June by Viktor Orbán incorporates the 1956 Institute into the Veritas Historical Research Institute and Archive, an organisation serving Orbán's goals in memory politics. We talked to János Rainer M., Katalin Somlai, and Krisztián Ungváry, all historians who worked for the 1956 Institute for several years.
The 1956 Institute was founded on 17 June 1989, a day after the famed reburial of Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister of the 1956 revolution and his fellow martyrs. It is one of the key institutes researching the recent history of Hungary with their collection of more than a thousand interviews conducted with participants and witnesses of Hungary's 20th-century history.
Even during Viktor Orbán's first term as Prime Minister (1998-2002), the institute suffered a major budget cut, and in 2010, when Orbán's second term began, the institute that operated independently up to that point was placed under the supervision of the National Széchényi Library after the dissolution of the public foundation of the institute, but then, the staff could continue working without any interfeence. Now, as they told us, that is not likely: most consider Veritas to be producing propaganda.
Also, this was not the first time the idea of this incorporation came up: As Rainer, the head of the 1956 Institute said earlier, it was first proposed in February 2017, but back then, the head of Veritas Sándor Szakály refused the plan.
The Veritas Institute is an organisation called into existence in 2013 by the Hungarian government in order to show the turning points of the last 150 years of Hungarian history "credibly and without distortions" and to "fittingly present the Hungarian constitutional traditions", while "strengthening the unity of the nation" as the decree creating it stipulated.
Soon, Veritas received their own building, and in 2015, the Institute was turned into an archive in order to accommodate their acquisition of a large collection of historical documents. Professional organisations of historians were left out of the legislative coordination process.
Now, worries grow as Veritas is taking over the 1956 Institute's Oral History Archives. Another significant 20th century archive, the Blinken OSA called interviewees of the 1956 Institute to withdraw their consent to the free use of the recorded interviews, as Veritas "through its activities makes a mockery of its name," and they call the Hungarian Government's decision a "humiliation of historical science."
The Forum of Academic Workers comprising researchers of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences also issued a statement saying they are watching with great concern as
"the Hungarian Government determines what to think of our past, present, and future by running existing social science institutes into the ground and creating new ones. The last steps of this process are the establishment of state control over the Academy's research institutes and the merging of the 1956 Institute and their outstanding body of work into the Veritas Institute created in 2013. These measures are incompatible with democracy and with academic freedoms."
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