Do you recall what happened to Joe Biden in 1987? While campaigning to become the Democratic nominee for president of the United States he ran into serious trouble when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech that had been made by Neil Kinnock, leader of the British Labour Party. Kinnock's speech included the lines: "Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience] Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?" Biden's speech included these lines: "I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience] Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I'm the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?" A few days later it came to light that Biden had had a problem in law school. He had plagiarized a law review article. That was the end of his presidential quest.
I can assure you that nothing of the sort will happen in Hungary where Iván Andrassew, a journalist with Népszava, caught Viktor Orbán or his speech writer blatantly plagiarizing from Péter Róna, formerly a banker and lawyer in New York and London but in the last twenty years a resident of Hungary where he managed to get a name as an economist. He writes quite often in Népszava. I happen not to be an admirer of Róna's ideas, mostly because I find them too far to the left and also quite nationalistic. A lethal combination in my opinion. That Orbán plagiarized from a left-wing socialist shouldn't surprise anyone. Orbán's populist ideas are not far removed on certain topics from those of Róna. It is especially amusing that the Róna article appeared in Magyar Nemzet, where left-wingers are normally not welcome.
Andrassew begins his article by relating a personal experience when he was teaching journalism in one of the many journalism schools in Budapest. He found out that most of the stuff he was getting from the students were stolen ideas. Out of ten students six had plagiarized. They got F's. (Well, at Yale they could depart from the university for a whole year, but Hungarians are much more "understanding" when it comes to cheating.) In fact, Andrassew says that if someone engages in such activity as a student it is "to some extent understandable and tolerable." (I'm much less tolerant, but that's an argument for another day.) But, he continues, it is unacceptable that a politician who claims that he has never lied in his life plagiarizes.
The fact of plagiarism is to my mind unquestionable. But perhaps the best thing is to translate parts of the two passages. First Róna's and then Orbán's.
Róna in Magyar Nemzet:
"According to myth our country is small and depends on exports and because it is lacking natural resources and endowments it must defer to others…. [The authors and propagators of this myth] don't talk about the fact that half of the countries in the European Union are smaller than Hungary. They don't talk about it because this compulsion toward deference is a characteristic basis of the political elite's legitimacy…. They build their power and personal well being on the execution of this compulsion toward deference. They know what capital and power demand from them–be that Vienna, Moscow or Brussels….. They are capable of convincing us that those wishes and expectations directed toward us through their transmission are not only legitimate but their fulfillment serves the interests of our country and society."
And here is Viktor Orbán's version:
"Let's forget the myth that our country is small and depends on exports and because it is lacking natural resources and endowments it must defer all the time and without conditions to others. My friends, half of the member countries of the European Union are smaller than Hungary….The Hungarian elite builds its power and its personal well being on the myth of compulsion of deference. This is an old story. They know what capital and power want from them: Vienna, Moscow, Brussels, Washington. They are the ones who convince us that those wishes and expectations coming from abroad are not only legitimate but their fulfillment serves the interests of our country and society."
Curiously, I found widespread silence in response to Iván Andrassew's discovery of Orbán's blatant plagiarism. The only exception was György Bolgár who had an interview with László Halák, who heads the Committee on Ethics in the Association of Journalists. One Hungarian publicist in a personal letter to me expressed his belief that the rules governing plagiarism don't apply to politicians. I think he is wrong as Biden's example showed.