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The 1956 Institute is about the same age as the Hungarian democracy. Twenty Hungarian and foreign intellectuals decided to establish an institute for the research of the contemporary Hungarian history just the day after Imre Nagy’s and his fellow martyrs’ reburial on June 17, 1989. The precursors on which this new institute could lean on were the Imre Nagy Institute founded in Bruxelles in 1959 by Hungarian emigrés and the Oral History Archive which had gathered personal recollections about the history of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and about the Hungarian history in general since the beginning of the 1980s with grants of the Soros Foundation.

In 1991 the Institute started up in the framework of a private foundation. It was later transformed to be a public foundation in the spring of 1995 by a government order which acknowledged its activity as being of national interest. The 1956 Institute has aimed at studying the Hungarian and international contemporary history with a special emphasis on the history of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and it has been also dedicated to the presentation of the scholarly results for the wider public. It has published more than 130 books, among them the Yearbook of the institute, the first volume of which was issued in 1992. It has made 20 e-publications, too, comprising 18 content development and 2 cd-roms. It produced 12 historical documentaries. The research fellows who worked for the institute has written about two thousand papers, a third of which was translated to foreign languages. The scholars of the Institute have represented Hungary in about 120 international conferences and workshops and the institute itself organized more than 30 national and international debates. The international conferences organized on the occasion of the fortieth and fiftieth anniversary of 1956 were undoubtly the major events in this respect. The experts of the Institute have also been involved actively in the dissemination of their results for the general public and in different educational programs during the past three decades.

The Oral History Archive which had been incorporated into the 1956 Institute in 1991 have made and collected more than 1100 life interviews with actors and testimonies of the 20th century Hungarian history. Nowadays it is one of the biggest collection of oral history in Central Europe. Beside the archive, the Institute has created a library of 12000 volumes on contemporary history. The 1956 Institute has established strong contacts with other centers of contemporary historical research both in Europe and in the overseas.

The Orbán cabinet decided the closure of the 1956 Institute without a legal successor on December 27, 2011. The Institute continued to serve its mission as a department of the Széchényi National Library since January 1, 2012. The staff was considerably reduced but those who remained continued the research and the publication. The Orbán government however accepted a decree on May 30, 2019 which ordered the moving of the 1956 Institute from the library into the framework of a government background institution, the VERITAS Historical Institute and Archive. The Institute’s team however resigned as a protest against the political decision.

It was after the institutional transformation of 2011 that the intellectual community of the Institute and some of the old founders established a new 1956 Institute Foundation. They intended to support in this way the indipendent research activity of the 1956 Institute. The 1956 Institute Foundation was legally registered in the summer of 2011 and in 2015 it was reconfirmed under the new legal circumstances as being a public foundation. This new Foundation gives support to projects of research and development, it assists the publication of books and organizes workshops on historical issues as well as it offers for the public the Digital Oral History Archive. This activity of the Foundation is built on grants and donations. The Foundation doesn’t have offices, neither the office holders are salaried. Thus the 1956 Institute today is an institution as it was at the moment of its birth on June 17, 1989, the voluntary association of scholars, an institute „high above”.