Month: March 2012

Orbán is playing with words again: This time it is “inviolable”

The Hungarian Constitution, or, pardon me, Basic Law, just like the old constitution written in 1989, states that “the person of the President of the Republic shall be inviolable” (Article 12/1). Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is hiding behind these words when he claims that he is unable to put any pressure and can’t use any persuasion to convince President Pál Schmitt that it would be in his best interest to step down.

Endre Aczél in a Népszabadság op/ed piece today zeroed in on the weakness of Orbán’s argument. He brought up the example of the abdication of Edward VIII. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin told the king on November 16, 1936 that his marrying a divorcee was unacceptable to the British people. Baldwin made it clear to Edward that if he marries Mrs. Simpson the government will resign. Edward abdicated. And, says Aczél, as king Edward was certainly “inviolable.”

So, let’s see what “inviolable” (sérthetetlen) means in legal terms. According to the Magyar Értelmező Szótár it refers to a person “under special protection.” The Netlexicon explains that inviolability (sérthetetlenség) has two components: (1) exemption from law suits in connection with activities connected to the president’s job and (2) special protection in the sense that any attack against his person is treated by the courts as more serious than a similar attack on an ordinary citizen.

That’s all simple enough, but then why are most people, even educated ones, somewhat confused about the meaning of this particular sentence in the constitution? I suspect that there are at least two reasons for the confusion. First, the root word of “sérthetetlen/sérthetetlenség” is the verb “sért” and that word has many, many meanings. Here are a few: to injure, to damage, to hurt, to offend, to insult, to infringe, to violate, to encroach on. Among these many meanings one can certainly find a few that might be associated with “pressuring” the inviolable person. For example, “to encroach” on the prerogative of the person under such protection. The other reason might be the old legal status of the king whose omnipotence was often expressed by the well known statement that “the person of the king is holy and inviolable” (a kiráy személye szent és sérthetetlen).

It is true that, according to the Constitution, parliament cannot remove Schmitt from his current position unless he “willfully violates the Fundamental Law or any Act while in office, or if he … commits a willful offense.” Thus, the decision must be his own. But his inviolability doesn’t preclude putting pressure on him if the prime minister feels that his resignation would be appropriate.

By now Orbán has made such a fetish out of this “inviolability” issue that yesterday when he received a question about whether in his opinion Schmitt cheated or not, Orbán answered that “because of the inviolability rule even asking such a question is unjustified.”

I can understand that Orbán didn’t want to answer the question, but hiding behind the inviolability rule is ridiculous. If we took Orbán’s explanation seriously, then the members of the fact finding committee, the doctoral council, and the university senate all committed some terrible unconstitutional act when they stated that Pál Schmitt cheated. Perhaps even their inquiry was unconstitutional! Of course, this is nonsense.

Since last night when Schmitt decided to have a friendly chat with Péter Obsersovszky, his amiable assistant in misleading the Hungarian public, political commentators cannot decide whose decision it was for Schmitt to tough it out for a while. A growing number of people think that Schmitt is so vain and so power hungry that, realizing that the decision to stay or resign was entirely his own, he decided to go against the wishes of Viktor Orbán. Then there are those who believe that nothing happens in Fidesz circles against Viktor Orbán’s wishes. The two schools of thought are artfully summarized by Zsófia Miháncsik in her “Kis magyar kremnológia” in Galamus.

Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság, who has been focusing on the affairs of Fidesz for a long time, gained the impression from unnamed Fidesz politicians that Orbán is actually powerless because Schmitt decided to stay. Apparently his plan is to make the rounds of television and radio stations and try to convince people of his innocence. If his performance last night is any indication I doubt that his plan will succeed. It was miserable.

Let me here translate the notes Klára Sándor, former SZDSZ politician, took during the interview Schmitt gave to Péter Obsersovszky on MTV. The title is “A statesman’s one-minute story.” The word statesman in Hungarian, “államférfi,” is misspelled (álamférfi) because this was one of the words Schmitt couldn’t spell in his infamous entry in the guest book of a restaurant. The “one-minute story” is a take-off on the famous “Egy perces novellák” of István Örkény (1912-1975), one of the greats of Hungarian prose in the twentieth century.

It goes like this:

human being, sportsman, double standards, I wrote it twenty years ago, because my mother asked me, most honestly, with the best of my knowledge, it was a man’s job, Georgiev was my personal acquaintance, the bibliography was enough, I indicated it, his knowledge is public knowledge, I don’t say that I created new value, my readers didn’t say anything, they encouraged me, it bothered me that they took it away, they didn’t even ask me, I expected that the senate would wait for me, I will not argue with them, I would have given it back myself, if necessary I will prove at the age of 70 that I am able even in difficult circumstances to write a Ph.D., now I am trying to think with green eyes, there is a lot about this in my head, I lead conferences, I published a lot, [the reporter you're a beloved man by many who was now hurt, one cannot sue the president,] I will not sue, it is fair this way, my honesty wasn’t damaged, I have to defend the TF [the university of physical education] also, I have to defend my dissertation adviser, I defended my summa cum laude according to the rules of the day, this is a question of honor, I accept the challenge for myself and for the truth, my conscience is clear.

His speech was received with disbelief by some and with hilarity by others. The picture most often found on the Internet is this one, referencing the fact that László Kövér who opposed his appointment called him Paprika Jancsi, harlequin, clown.


András Hont, a sharp political commentator, also described “the historical interview” as a parody worthy of Dürrenmatt or Örkény. In the speech Schmitt repeated all those lies he had already dropped elsewhere since HVG broke the story in January. Prior to his appointment as president he had achieved a lot, especially considering his abilities. He had practically everything, except prestige and authority. And now, thanks to Viktor Orbán, he also received prestige and authority. And he doesn’t want to let go of it.

I have the feeling that his fight for his prestigious position will be a short one. Even within the party Viktor Orbán, who is not inviolable, is being pressured to tell his puppet that it is time to go.

The possible influence of the Schmitt affair on the right-wing intellectual elite

I don’t particularly like the term “elite,” especially when I look around and find many members of the so-called elite wanting. Wanting both intellectually and morally. Moreover, the elite comes in many different stripes–for instance, the business elite, the political elite, and the so-called intellectual elite. What Hungarians think of the political elite we know only too well. Among the business elite, the little we know about it, there is not much to admire. I think it is enough to listen to the recordings of the telephone conversations between Sándor Csányi, CEO of the largest Hungarian bank, and the managing directors of UD Zrt. The conversations sound like telephone calls between members of the mafia.

But here I would like to write about the intellectual elite. Members of universities, research institutes, and naturally members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. While in the West this group’s political views tend toward liberalism, in Hungary this is not the case. I don’t know of any surveys on the political attitudes of the Hungarian intellectual elite, but I wouldn’t be surprised if half of this group inclines toward right-wing parties.

Many political commentators claim that during right-wing governments the right-wing intellectuals wholeheartedly supported the government just as during the socialist-liberal governments the liberal intellectuals stood solidly behind their favorite government. I think that this claim is inaccurate when it comes to the socialist-liberal members of the intellectual elite because in the last twenty years this group was not entirely homogeneous, as it is not homogeneous now. Some are more to the left, others exhibit more of a liberal persuasion. The supporters of SZDSZ always looked upon MSZP with suspicion and were also critical of its policies and individual members of the party. Often, personal dislikes colored their attitudes. It’s enough to recall, for example, László Kéri and László Lengyel who developed a visceral hatred of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Both men made their feelings clear in interviews and in writings. In brief, the socialist-liberal intellectuals’ support of the Horn, Medgyessy, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai governments was far less solid than the right-wing intellectuals’ support of Fidesz is today.  I would claim that by the end of 2009 the left-liberal intellectual elite abandoned the government altogether.

This has not been the case with the very loyal right-wingers among the intellectuals. They were loyal to Fidesz and Viktor Orbán throughout the eight years in the “wilderness.” It didn’t matter how unacceptable the Fidesz politicians’ behavior was, this group always wholeheartedly supported the party. A good description of their behavior can be found in an op/ed piece by Zsuzsanna Körmendy entitled “Loyalty” that appeared in Magyar Nemzet today.

It seems this loyalty is being tested by the events surrounding President Pál Schmitt’s plagiarism case. The ground for this change was preceded by their disappointment over the attitude of Fidesz concerning the opening of the archives without the current restrictions on the state security documents that would include the list of informers.

But the real test case is this plagiarism case. After all, this is a subject that is close to these academics’ hearts. They must know that Schmitt’s dissertation is perhaps the most blatant plagiarism case attached to a high-level politician that has come to light anywhere in the western world. Also, they must be painfully aware that this scandal casts a shadow on their own scientific accomplishments. Sure, this dissertation was submitted to a university that basically trains gym teachers, but still it is a Hungarian university and most Hungarian academics received their degrees from a university inside the country.

Cautious voices could be heard in the last couple of days coming from the Academy and the Batthyány Circle of Professors indicating that perhaps not all’s well with Schmitt’s dissertation. When I say “cautious” I mean almost cowardly. First the president of the Academy, József Pálinkás, released a statement on March 28. The case, according to Pálinkás, “is surely politically motivated which by now has become an international scandal.” He blames the Kádár regime for Schmitt’s plagiarism even though the president received the degree in 1992, that is after the regime change, because, according to him, Schmitt “received his degree according to procedures that were not without precedent.” In brief, Pálinkás claims that degrees given out during the Kádár regime may be suspect. Not exactly a truthful or a brave statement. However, he did add that the fact finding committee made its opinion public and “the author as well as the readers of the dissertation are responsible.” He emphasized that it is in the common interest of politics and the scientific community that this case is closed as soon as possible because “it does injury to the Hungarian scientific community” and inflicts harm on the country.

A day later, on March 29, came the professors of the Batthyány Circle who most likely were emboldened by Pálinkás’s cautious words. Actually, they were braver than the president of the Academy and even suggested Schmitt’s resignation. They added that it was a mistake to grant the College of Physical Education university status, which happened in 1989. However, the change of status, as far as I know, is not significant here because the Testnevelési Főiskola (College of Physical Education) was able to grant these mini-doctorates even before that date.

One of the members of the Batthyány Circle of Professors who has the reputation of being more moderate than the rest, Frigyes Solymosi, a day earlier expressed his private opinion to György Bolgár of Klubrádió that the president should resign. But even that moderate right-winger described the act of plagiarism in this case as “trickery” or a “prank” (turpisság), a term I think is most inappropriate in this case. This is a serious matter and not some kind of prank. He even had some suggestions for Schmitt’s successor: either József Pálinkás or E. Szilveszter Vizy, the former president of the Academy. Vizy is a very conservative man and a great supporter of Fidesz. Pálinkás is the one who is behind changing the name of Roosevelt Square to Széchenyi Square. I would put Pálinkás squarely in the right wing of Fidesz.

Schmitt gowns2

Maybe one day Scmitt’s dream will become true

However, we don’t have to worry about successors for the moment. Schmitt announced tonight that he has no intention of resigning and in fact is planning to write a brand new dissertation. This time a real one. He will then be able to use the Ph.D. designation that he has already used in English-language publications. Those of us who went through the arduous process of writing a Ph.D. dissertation know that nothing can possibly come of Schmitt’s grandiose plan. He has neither the background nor the ability to write such an opus.

But just in case, perhaps you could suggest possible dissertation topics to Schmitt.

A few new facts about Pál Schmitt’s dissertation

The second act of the drama ended around 7:00 p.m. today when it was announced that the Senate of Semmelweis University had revoked President Pál Schmitt’s doctoral degree. There were 37 people present; 33 voted for the resolution and four opposed it.

Of course, this is only act two. Now comes the decision whether Schmitt should be able to remain in his post. Pál Schmitt indicated that he has every intention of staying. Apparently, he came to like the position and all its privileges. His office certainly acts as if nothing has happened. On its website the president’s schedule for the next few days is duly noted. On the other hand, Schmitt’s Facebook page had to be taken down because of the rather impolite comments and demands for his resignation. According to Népszabadság Orbán is undecided about Schmitt’s fate.

It is always interesting to go back and read earlier analyses and discover some points that during the first reading didn’t seem terribly important but in hindsight are significant. This is what happened to me today when I remembered a lengthy portrait of Pál Schmitt by József Nagy in the May 2005 issue of Mozgó Világ. Among other things, it challenges Schmitt’s veracity at several turns, in effect describing him as a habitual liar.

Then there was the interesting but unexplained fact that Index reported back on March 20. The diligent reporters who have been spending countless hours on Schmitt’s past discovered an item in a monthly entitled Labdarúgás (Football) published by the Állami Ifjúsági és Sporthivatal (State Office of Youth and Sports) that was headed by Schmitt with the title of undersecretary. It was noted in the September 1988 issue that Schmitt already had a dissertation ready. This original thesis had a different title: “The Analysis of the Olympic Program.” The one Schmitt submitted in 1992 was entitled “The Analysis of the Program of the Modern Olympic Games.” Note that the 1988 version of the dissertation bore exactly the same title as Nikolai Georgiev’s work on the same subject written in 1987. What happened to this earlier dissertation? Index was hoping that the Semmelweis Committee investigating Schmitt’s plagiarism case would look into the question of this earlier dissertation. I’m sure they didn’t.

There can be at least two possible explanations for why this 1988 dissertation wasn’t submitted at the time. One is that his since deceased dissertation adviser considered this first effort of such inferior quality that he advised Schmitt to rework it. In this case the first dissertation was actually Pál Schmitt’s handiwork. The other possibility is that it was such a blatant copy of Georgiev’s work, including its title, that someone warned him about the dangers of submitting it, especially so close to the publication date of the Bulgarian researcher’s book. In either case, I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that the dissertation that was submitted by Schmitt was compiled by someone else. I purposely use the verb “compiled” because it was put together from different sources (some written after 1988) and translated more or less verbatim.

Yesterday Index asked its readers to get to work and find out where the few pages that were still unaccounted for in Schmitt’s dissertation came from. The tally as of yesterday was that of the 225 pages we know the source of 212. So, a mere 13 pages were still in question. Less than 24 hours later the diligent researchers found the sources. Because there were two. What took a committee two solid months was achieved within a few hours by the Googlers.

Google detective

The missing 13 pages concerned women’s sport. It was a whole chapter with the title “The Role of Women in Sports.” As one of the volunteer detectives discovered, part of this chapter was the exact translation of Anita L. Defrantz’s “Progress Made, Pitfalls and Conditions for Further Advancement of Women in the Olympic Movement.” This article appeared in the same book from which whoever wrote the dissertation lifted Klaus Heinemann’s article–Sport, the Third Millennium (Vancouver, 1991). Clinching the case is that Schmitt’s thesis mentions Olympic games held in 1924 when there was no such thing. Defrantz makes the same mistake.

Another “researcher” found a possible connection to Nadia Lekarska’s article “The Entry Marathon of the Second Sex” that appeared in The Olympic Review (September 1990).

All in all, it is likely that not a line in the dissertation is original, and there is a good likelihood that even the translated compilation is the work of somebody else.

Further developments in the Schmitt case

The first reaction to the report of the committee of five investigating President Pál Schmitt’s plagiarism came from the always eager-beaver Christian Democrats. The party was pleased to hear the verdict because “this will put an end to the political attacks” on Schmitt. The official press release of KDNP stated that the report “represents a closure to suppositions that questioned the originality of the president’s dissertation.” It seems that the KDNP politicians read a different summary of the findings of the committee than I did.

A few minutes later Fidesz’s spokeswoman, Gabriella Selmeczi, announced that “given the findings of the committee Fidesz considers the case closed.” I’m afraid it is only wishful thinking that the case is closed. If anything, the outcry has intensified.

Naturally, all the opposition parties are demanding Schmitt’s resignation. DK was the first democratic party to comment. Csaba Molnár, deputy chairman and leader of the non-existent parliamentary caucus, made sure that everybody understands what plagiarism is all about: it is stealing. And what kind of an excuse is it that Schmitt is not guilty because he wasn’t told that he was stealing? He likened the situation to someone who stole a couple of items in Tesco and complained to the police that after all he didn’t see any sign saying “Stealing is forbidden.” DK threatened a demonstration if Schmitt doesn’t announce his intention to resign.

LMP not only threatened a demonstration but immediately announced a flash mob event in front of the parliament building. Considering that there were only a few hours between the announcement and the beginning of the event, a sizeable crowd gathered on Kossuth Square.



Flash mob, March 27, 2912 (MTI)

MSZP called on Viktor Orbán to give “the ukase” to Schmitt to resign. However, considering reports on the reactions of Fidesz’s inner circle after the outbreak of the scandal, the likelihood of Viktor Orbán telling Schmitt to get out of the way is close to nil. In fact, Fidesz is preparing a strategy that ignores the whole thing. This has been Fidesz’s long-standing response to any event that is considered to be unpleasant or injurious to the party. If they don’t talk about it, the problem will disappear. And most of the time the strategy has worked very well.

According to Origo, each member of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation received an sms early yesterday afternoon forbidding them to make any comments whatsoever about the affair. The MPs will most likely obey, but some of them privately admitted to Origo‘s reporter that they are less than satisfied with the conclusions of the committee. However, it was also clear that most of them expected that kind of verdict because of “the incredible pressure” on the committee members. The pressure naturally came from Fidesz and the government. Apparently among the top party leaders the majority felt that Schmitt should resign with the notable exception of Viktor Orbán who from day one maintained that “we have to defend” Schmitt. We know that László Kövér was against the appointment of Schmitt in the first place because he considered him a light-weight and apparently after HVG’s revelations he said to Orbán: “Didn’t I tell you?”

However, what Orbán decides goes. The majority, including Kövér, might have thought that it would be better to get rid of Schmitt, but Orbán thought otherwise. From here on Orbán will have to take responsibility for whatever happens.

Not only are the Fidesz MPs tight-mouthed. No one in the academic community wants to talk about it. Index went around and talked to officials at several universities. At ELTE the reporter was told that nothing like that had happened at the university in thirty years and therefore there is no opinion on how the university would handle such a case. In Debrecen the administration was too busy handing out honorary degrees. The spokesman for Corvinus sent the reporter to the university’s website where one can find the rules and regulations governing Ph.D. dissertations at their institution. He didn’t want to comment on the Schmitt case. In Pécs the spokesman for the university said that he didn’t want to talk about the case on the telephone. In Szeged the situation was the same, but the deputy president in charge of academic affairs didn’t answer the reporter’s e-mail either. Index tried to get something out of László Fésüs, who heads the Committee on Ethics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He also refused, which is not surprising because József Pálinkás, president of the Academy, made it clear some time ago that Schmitt’s case has nothing to do with his institution.

Meanwhile the 1,157-page report seems to be making the rounds. The members of the committee investigating the case at Semmelweis got rid of the document as soon as possible. They sent it over to the Ministry of Natural Resources where the minister, Miklós Réthelyi, himself a faculty member at Semmelweis prior to his appointment to his current job, refused the open the package and sent it back to Semmelweis. Clearly the Schmitt case is a hot potato and no one wants to be burned by it.

One person may already have been burned. András Stumpf, a journalist at the right-wing Heti Válasz, wrote a short opinion piece within a couple of hours of the release of the committee’s report. Its somewhat sarcastic title was “Hajrá, Elnök Úr!” “Hajrá” means something like “to the finish.” It is a signature word of Viktor Orbán, who usually concludes his speeches with “Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!” Stumpf called the conclusion “very thin, very cowardly.” Ignorance of the rule is irrelevant. Stumpf argued that the university has to share responsibility because of its very low standards. One can imagine what a “kupleráj” there had to be at the university, said Stumpf. The root meaning of “kupleráj” is brothel, but in this case it means “chaos,” “disarray.” Stumpf, referring to one of the paragraphs of the law governing doctoral dissertations mentioned in the report, claimed that the university must revoke Schmitt’s degree.

A few hours later András Stumpf’s opinion piece was removed from Heti Válasz‘s website. Oh, but the wonderful world of the Internet! Another right-wing site,, downloaded and published it, and now the short piece is circulating. I received at least three e-mails containing the link to mandiner and to be on the safe side I downloaded it too. Who knows when Mandiner will be forced to take it off its site. What will happen to Stumpf, I have no idea. It all depends on Viktor Orbán. I’m not kidding.

Meanwhile, Pál Schmitt sent a statement from South Korea where he was amiably chatting with President Barack Obama that he has no intention of resigning. The conclusions of the report “are a kind of redress” in his eyes. He sees no connection between his doctoral dissertation and his current job and therefore he “never for a moment thought of resignation.”

Schmitt may not see any connection between the plagiarism and his current office, but a lot of people do, both in Hungary and abroad. The question is whether pressure can be brought to bear on the government. Given the general lack of Hungarian enthusiasm for standing against the undemocratic tide that is sweeping through Hungary, I doubt it.

The Hungarian president plagiarized but it was the university’s fault

This morning Árpád W. Tóta, the very popular blogger, even before the verdict of the fact finding committee dealing with the plagiarism case of President Pál Schmitt was released, wrote that “the report of the committee will reveal how destructive is the force of that will that made Pál Schmitt president and kept him in that position.” Now we know. The “destructive force of that will,” as Tóta calls Viktor Orbán, is enormous.

Tóta also rightly points out that the Regime of National Cooperation expects the academic community, especially social scientists, to support its political goals. If these people deviate at all, punishment might be meted out. So, it’s no wonder that it took so long for the five-member committee to come up with its findings. They were in a quandary. They were most likely expecting some sign from above by way of guidance, but apparently it didn’t come.

First, let’s look at the profiles of the members of this investigating committee. The chairman of the committee was the dean of the faculty of Physical Education and Sports of Semmelweis University, Miklós Tóth. This is the same man who immediately after HVG came out with the story about Schmitt’s possible plagiarism announced that “we have no reason to suppose that the committee didn’t decide properly when it approved the dissertation of Pál Schmitt in 1992.” He added that the quality of the dissertation was in no way inferior to others written at the time. He certainly didn’t have to think very hard during deliberations.

In addition, Tóth has been a member of the Hungarian Olympic Committee since 2010, and one month after the news about Schmitt’s plagiarism case broke he became one of the vice presidents of the HOC (MOB in Hungarian). The other new vice president was Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament. Zsolt Borkai took over the presidency from Schmitt in 2010. Borkai is a Fidesz parliamentary member and mayor of Győr. In brief, the Olympic Committee is a Fidesz stronghold.

Among the members of the investigating committee was Károly Rácz, head of the university’s graduate school. He is, like Tóth, an M.D. who finished medical school at Semmelweis, but he received his Ph.D. from McGill University in Montreal. He returned to Hungary in the 1980s. He has published widely in foreign medical journals, and most of his publications are in English. He seems to be a stickler for quality, but he added that “the committee must take into consideration the requirements of those days.” Moreover, he wrote that it is the duty of the readers of the dissertation to uncover plagiarism, but naturally they cannot be familiar with all the material.

Another member, János Gombocz, has been teaching at Semmelweis ever since 1968. He has a Ph.D. in education. His field of interest is the theory of education and sport pedagogy. He was until 2011 a member of a foundation that functioned under the Olympic Committee. A closely knit circle. He is also a member of the editorial board of “the conservative periodical, Mester és Tanítványa (Master and his student)” whose editor-in-chief is Rózsa Hoffmann (KDNP), undersecretary in charge of education in the Orbán government. Another connection with government circles.

Then there was Etele Kovács who received a doctorate in 1985 from Schmitt’s alma mater. And finally, Ákos Fluck, a lawyer, who apparently attached a separate brief. We don’t yet know its contents.

It is hard to imagine, but the full report is 1,157 pages long. Thankfully a three-page summary is available.

The complete version was sent to the Ministry of National Resources, the super-ministry that Viktor Orbán created that took over, among other things, education. It seems that this monster of a report will end up on Rózsa Hoffmann’s desk. We know that Hoffmann has strong views on plagiarism: it is cheating and it is unacceptable. It is hard to fathom what she will say now that the investigative committee ascertained that 26 pages of the dissertation were copied word for word from Klaus Heinemann’s “The Economics of Sport: The Institution of Modern Sport as an Area of Economic Competition,” Sport, the Third Millennium (Vancouver, 1991). Moreover, after listing all the diagrams and tables copied out of Nikolay Gueorguiev’s Analyse de Programme Olympique (des Jeux de l’Olympiade (Lausanne: Maison Olympique, 1987) the report rather vaguely states that “approximately 180 pages show partial agreement with Gueorguiev’s work.” The only additional material in these 180 pages reflect Schmitt’s–or whoever wrote the dissertation–attempt to include information about the Olympics held in Seoul in 1988.

Schmitt es plagium

It was in front of me and of course I signed it

So, although they don’t use the word plagiarism (plágium, plagizál) there is no question that Schmitt’s dissertation is not his own work. Naturally there are other problems as well. There are no quotation marks to indicate borrowed material and therefore there are no footnotes. The bibliography lists 21 works but strangely enough their titles are not given in the original languages but in Hungarian translation.

The report mentions other oddities, although “they cannot be considered irregularities.” One of these “oddities” is that the university and Schmitt together managed to push through a doctoral dissertation from A to Z in one month. Quite a feat. He showed up one day and announced that he would like to receive a doctorate and behold a month later it was all done.

Another “oddity” is that there is no sign in Schmitt’s academic record of the requisite comprehensive examination (in Hungarian, szigorlat). Also missing is a thesis (in Hungarian, vázlat) in which the candidate outlines the skeleton of his or her dissertation. And there is no record of written opinions of the readers (opponensek in Hungarian).

After all these “oddities” comes the conclusion: “This procedure–although with the above imperfections–met the practice of the still independent University of Physical Education. The work depends on an unusual amount of verbatim translation, a fact that was not discovered in time although its discovery should have been part of the procedure. The University of Physical Education made a mistake when it didn’t discover the identity of texts and thus the author may have believed that his dissertation met the requirements.”

So, Schmitt was the innocent victim of his readers’ ignorance. An incredible conclusion.

After reading the summary I came to the conclusion that Pál Schmitt is not the only one who should resign–or at the very least apologize.The administrators of the University of Physical Education who assisted him in getting an undeserved doctorate, and one suspects that there were many who assisted in this ruse, should also step down. In addition, the three readers should  be retired from teaching, and not just because they didn’t identify the plagiarized texts. The university administration and readers are culpable because the dissertation didn’t meet the requirements as stated in the 1985 Act I. This law specifies that the granting of a doctorate requires the candidate to have a prior university degree, pass a comprehensive exam, have a command of a foreign language at an intermediate level, and employ standard academic methods. That certainly includes footnotes and quotation marks. Moreover, it also states that if it is discovered that the dissertation was written by someone other than the candidate or that the candidate inappropriately used the work of others, the doctoral title will be withdrawn.

Oh well, I guess this was a communist law. As Hungarian ethics gets rewritten with a Christian, nationalist tilt, cheating remains an accepted way of life.

Lex DK: How the Fidesz majority manipulates the law

We’ve already had several instances of Lex This and Lex That when a piece of legislation was specifically written to suit one person. The first such Lex was Lex Szapáry named for György Szapáry, the current Hungarian ambassador to Washington. The law in force at the time stated that the compulsory retirement age for diplomats was 70, but Viktor Orbán’s choice for the Washington post was seventy-two. No problem. The law was changed and Szapáry duly appointed. Or, there was a new, Fidesz-introduced rule that former members of the armed forces cannot play any political role for five years after leaving the army or the police force. But the lawmakers as usual were in too much of a hurry and didn’t realize that an important Fidesz member of parliament had left the army only three years earlier. Oops! No problem, let’s change the law. And they lowered the cut-off point to three years.

Now we have a new law dealing with parliamentary rules. The parliament functioned quite well for twenty-two years with the old rules. But Fidesz insists on changing everything they can lay their hands on. It would have been logical to make the changes at the end of the session, during the summer recess. But then, they couldn’t have prevented Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party, the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), from forming a parliamentary caucus, called “frakció” in Hungarian.

According to some legal opinions, for example that of Vera Lánczos in an article on Galamus last November, DK was illegally prevented from forming a caucus already last October. I don’t want to go into all the legal pettifoggery that went on, but the DK members’ request for a caucus of their own was denied on the alleged difference between the meaning of two words: “kilép” and “kiválik.” Here are the English equivalents from the Hungarian-English dictionary: kilép = resign, leave, quit; kiválik = leave, separate, quit, part from. Hard to find a significant difference between the two. The upshot of the legal wrangling was that DK members couldn’t form a caucus then, but–as the house rule then in effect stated–they will be able to do so after sitting as independents for six months. The six months will be up in April. So, that’s why the rush to come up with new house rules.



Then there are financial considerations. A caucus can spend 5.8 million forints on the everyday running of business; in addition it receives a fairly large subsidy based on the number of MPs. In the case of DK that would be 95 million forints this year. Next year the amount would be even larger; under the more generous new rules DK would receive 117 million forints. So, if DK is not allowed to form an official parliamentary group, it will be deprived of about 200 million forints between now and the 2014 elections.What are the advantages of being able to form such a caucus? More than we might think. Independent members don’t have the right to speak before the scheduled agenda of the day (napirend előtti felszólalás). Neither do they have the right to respond to speeches delivered before the official agenda. They have only limited access to interpellation, that is questioning members of the government on specific issues. Officially recognized caucuses have the right to one interpellation at every plenary session while the independents’ right is restricted by their number. In the current session that would mean that DK members could interpellate only three times in this current session of parliament. Membership on parliamentary committees is also limited for the independent members. According to the current parliamentary rules every parliamentary caucus must be represented on all committees. Currently there are twenty committees. Thus if DK could establish a caucus, each DK member could serve on two committees. An independent, by contrast, can serve on only one committee, and even that is not compulsory. For example, Ferenc Gyurcsány is not a member of any committee. I’m sure that is not a coincidence.

The new set of house rules, 120 pages in length, is the result of hard work that most likely began immediately after the issue of Gurcsány and the nine other MSZP parliamentarians who left the party came up. That is clear from László Kövér’s immediate reaction to the question. Within days, he announced that he was against the formation of new caucuses by members of parliament who had been originally elected as members of another party. Thus an MSZP member of parliament must sit with MSZP and vote according to MSZP dictates even if, despite the changed circumstances, his conscience dictates otherwise. The framers of the current house rules, on the other hand, emphasized the right of an MP to change affiliation because otherwise the political structure becomes solidified. It goes against democratic principles and the free will of an MP to act according to his conscience.

So, what is DK doing about it? A couple of days ago Ágnes Vadai, one of the ten DK parliamentary members, asked the Christian Democrats (KDNP) to support DK in their struggle to form a caucus. After all, argued Vadai, KDNP has a separate caucus although it didn’t enter the race as a separate party. The KDNP answer was, I think correctly, that their situation cannot be compared to DK because KDNP was on the ballot in a hyphenated form: Fidesz-KDNP. Mind you, KDNP’s support cannot even be measured by the pollsters.

This law as it affects DK is certainly retroactive and therefore unconstitutional. DK can turn to international forums, but by the time there is any resolution of the issue a new election campaign season might be in full swing. Although according to some polls DK already has enough support to have parliamentary representation, that calculation is based on the old electoral law. Under the new, more Fidesz-friendly one their fate is less secure. The electoral law will most likely be attacked by international forums as ten other cardinal laws have already been, but we cannot know how much Fidesz will see fit to change.

Everything is in flux, including the negotiations with the IMF. Meanwhile the Hungarian people are in a deep slumber. In Esztergom, an important referendum was not valid because only 35% of the population bothered to vote instead of the necessary 50%. Mind you, those who did vote supported the beleaguered independent mayor of Esztergom, Éva Tétényi.

Let me add a conversation I came across this morning. A reporter was talking to demonstrators at the March 15 gathering in support of Viktor Orbán and his government. The man who was interviewed is not educated as is clear from his grammar. The demonstrator: “We are dissatisfied too, because those who were poor is even poorer now, the rich richer. So, in our opinion this change didn’t bring anything good. This is how we feel.” The reporter: “Then are you for or against the government?” The demonstrator: “We are for the government, but we don’t agree with it.”

Now, you can laugh or cry.

A disturbing interview with András Schiffer

A lot of people think that one of the obstacles to cooperation among the democratic parties is the person of András Schiffer. There are also many who consider him not quite trustworthy and who suspect him and his party of being far too cozy with Fidesz. Some would go so far as to say that Fidesz, even if it didn’t actually create LMP, was certainly pleased to see its formation and may have assisted in its sudden rise on the political horizon.

One thing is sure. LMP can’t quite decide where it belongs. In the chamber the LMP caucus sits next to Jobbik and, from the looks of it, the members of the two groups seem to be on very good terms. I heard Gergely Karácsony, second to Schiffer in importance in LMP, praise some members of this neo-Nazi party as being very decent guys. In fact, at one point Karácsony suggested a tactical coalition between Jobbik and the democratic parties in order to defeat Fidesz at the next elections. Not surprisingly, MSZP and DK refused such a coalition, tactical or not. Pictures of Schiffer amiably chatting with some of the less than savory members of Jobbik circulate on the Internet.

Schiffer jobbik

After János Lázár’s attack on him, Schiffer gave several interviews, including the one in Népszabadság that I decided to analyze here. Even in this interview one has the distinct feeling that Schiffer has a soft spot for certain Jobbik political aims. For example, Jobbik and LMP share a dislike of capitalism. In this interview, he recalled that only two members of parliament rose to speak in favor of his proposal to make the national security documents public: Előd Novák (Jobbik) and Katalin Ertsey (LMP). He also favorably compared the behavior of Jobbik to that of János Lázár, whom he labelled a member of the “extreme right.” After all, he continued, members of Jobbik refrain from attacking their opponents in parliament on the basis of their ancestry.

András Schiffer likes to give the impression of political neutrality. LMP, if one can believe him, stands in the middle. His argument goes something like this: “Yes, Fidesz is bad but the former regime was just as bad.” And it is here that his veracity becomes questionable and his position untenable. Here are two examples: “What János Lázár is doing is the extreme right itself. Mind you, the fanatics of Ferenc Gyurcsány did exactly the same thing the other way around [pepitában] when they called me to account on the basis of my political views.” I know nothing about the alleged attack by Gyurcsány’s “fanatics,” but I guess someone might have asked him about his political orientation given his family’s social democratic background.

Furthermore, says Schiffer, János Lázár and his fellow Fidesz politicians were rightfully upset when “left-liberal hacks in the previous eight years” called attention to those ancestors and relatives of Fidesz politicians who had held important positions in the Kádár regime. “So, János Lázár is not a whit different from those hired commenters of the previous regime. Those whose last argument was to invoke the fathers of Zoltán Pokorni, László Kövér, Tibor Navracsics, or, for that matter, Viktor Orbán. They tried to drag the other side down to their level in the muck.” Well, I don’t think that a member of Fidesz or Jobbik could have said it better.

There is another interesting passage in the interview. Schiffer seems to be worried about the damage Lázár is doing to Fidesz in the long run. Specifically, he says the following: “The time has arrived for Viktor Orbán to decide whether he wants to discredit his party with such a fellow.” Although he admits that in the short run a politician such as Lázár might be an asset, in the long run “such politicians [as Lázár] will only be able to yell from the outside of parliament at the head of a party with 3% of the votes.” But, of course, Schiffer is wrong. Lázár is very important to Viktor Orbán, who has no intention of getting rid of him. The two work hand in hand, and if Schiffer doesn’t see that he is not a good politician.

The end of the interview focused on the relationship between Fidesz and LMP in light of Lázár’s personal attack on him. Schiffer explained that no such incident as this can possibly alter LMP’s course. They conduct their politics on the basis of principles. “LMP is a constructive opposition party. . . . We still believe that politics can be different [Lehet Más a Politika = LMP]. At the same time, if Viktor Orbán does not make it clear within a short period of time that he rejects the kind of extreme right approach that is translated into personal attacks against Fidesz’s opponents on the basis of family ties then, in the long run, even beyond 2014, even the most essential cooperation between Fidesz and LMP will be impossible.”

Well, well! Even beyond 2014? That almost sounds as if there is cooperation at the moment. Perhaps it was just wrong phrasing. Or perhaps a slip of the tongue. I don’t know, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

After this interview I like András Schiffer even less than before.