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President accused of plagiarism

January 16th, 2012

Commentators on the left and in the centre of the political spectrum wonder whether  President Pál Schmitt can stay in office, after Heti Világgazdaság accused him of plagiarising a significant part of his doctoral dissertation, submitted in 1992.

In an investigative report, Heti Világgazdaság claimed that President Pál Schmitt committed plagiarism in his PhD dissertation. According to the weekly, 180 pages of the 215 page thesis are word for word translations of a research paper by Nikolai Georgiev, a Bulgarian historian, about the history of the Olympic games. President Schmitt’s office rejected the accusations, and described the dissertation as an original and major scientific work.  President Schmitt, the press release argued, discussed several topics with Georgiev, who passed away in 2005. While opposition parties suggested that Schmitt should resign, PM Viktor Orbán said the case did not require any measures from him. Péter Szijjártó, the PM’s spokesperson dismissed the allegations as “mere hoaxes” unworthy of further consideration.

If the accusations cannot be convincingly refuted, the President, who [according to the Constitution] represents the unity of the nation, should not only resign, but leave public life altogether,” János Dési writes in Népszava.

Dési believes that the awkward incident will not only harm the President’s authority, but will also weaken the country’s international standing, unless Schmitt steps down. If that happens, PM Viktor Orbán could take his place, Dési speculates. He adds that Orbán is also at fault, since he hand-picked Pál Schmitt, who as President merely executes Orbán’s orders, Dési believes. “Ceterum censeo: Dr. Orbán must resign,” the left-wing commentator remarks.

In Népszabadság, Miklós Hargitai and Tamás Lajos Szalay note that there is no legal way for the opposition parties to remove the President, which implies that unless Schmitt decides to resign, he can stay in office. This, however, would further weaken his credibility.

In the same daily, Péter Pető does not find it surprising at all that the President’s office and the government are trying to downplay the issue. Pető remarks that Schmitt is totally loyal to PM Viktor Orbán. The President has not even tried to pretend that he had any intention of trying to counterbalance the executive. During his time in office, President Schmitt has not vetoed a single law. Pető concludes his highly ironic piece by proposing that the President should not leave his office, since his presence will be a constant reminder to Hungarians of how the Orbán regime works.

In Magyar Narancs, liberal linguist György C. Kálmán points out that it is not unusual for politicians, including dictators, to get PhDs, although they do not need postgraduate degrees for their offices. The reason for their interest in a PhD is “primitive public opinion” which mistakenly regards doctoral degrees as a prerequisite for a political career.

In Mandiner, Gellért Rajcsányi draws parallels with last year’s German plagiarism scandals. Former Minister of Defence Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and liberal MEP Silvana Koch-Merin had to resign after it was revealed that they plagiarised their doctoral dissertations. (Although Koch Merin only resigned as deputy speaker of the European Parliament, while keeping her seat in the assembly.) Rajcsányi adds that lifting ideas from others without attribution should be seen as a major crime – all the more so, since only last October, the State Secretariat for Education suggested that plagiarists in the academe might even be sued for document forgery. The conservative commentator hints that President Schmitt has no option but to resign.

Jobbklikk, another conservative blog, whose earlier authors include Tibor Navracsics, Minister of Public Administration and Justice as well as other government politicians, suggests in a brief op-ed piece that since he has not provided a credible rejection of the allegations, President Schmitt “must immediately resign”, otherwise the credibility and authority of the Presidential institution will be ruined.

In Heti Válasz, András Stumpf offers a bitter comment on what he calls Hungary’s “spineless” political elite. The current opposition parties and those left-wing commentators who demand the President’s resignation have only become ardent defenders of democratic principles since they lost power, he suggests, while they used to show little concern for such norms earlier.

Stumpf, however, does seem to believe that the President should resign. But President Schmitt is also part of the opportunistic and inconsistent political elite, who do not themselves live up to their own principles, and who perform swift U-turns if their short-term interests so require, Stumpf concludes.

If the plagiarism allegations are substantiated, the President cannot restore his credibility, whether he decides to leave office, or hang on to it, Gábor Török believes. Even those in the right-wing political elite, who try to downplay the issue in public, are fully aware of how serious the President’s abuse is.

In his assessment of the possible political consequences, Török contends that Schmitt’s resignation would be seen as an admission of defeat on the right. But if he stays in office, his presence will in the long run be a burden on the governing parties. Török suggests that it would be in the interest of Fidesz to make the President leave. This would also give Fidesz the opportunity to elect a new right-leaning President, whose mandate would last until 2017. A president on good terms with the right-wing parties could be strategically important for Fidesz, in case it were to lose the next elections in 2014, Török concludes.

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