It was no great surprise that Viktor Orbán nominated Pál Schmitt, who has been occupying the position of speaker of the house for less than two months and will continue to do so until August 5. Rumors were circulating even before the elections that Orbán's favorite man is Pál Schmitt, whose life should be an example for people who want to make a spectacular career by any means.
He was born in 1942 and at the age of 13, just about the right age for a future fencer, he started to learn the art of épée. Épée is similar to foil but it has a stiffer blade, a larger bell guard, and is heavier. The technique is also somewhat different because, as opposed to fencing with foil, in épée the entire body is a valid target area. Opinions vary about how good a fencer he was. According to some accounts his fellow fencers had a low opinion of his abilities and they claim that in the two Olympics (1968 and 1972) he attended as a member of the gold-winning Hungarian épée team he played no important role. As one blogger said, he mostly sat and was the least valuable player on the team. However, he couldn't have been a total slouch because he won an individual gold at the world championships in 1971.
According to the same blogger he and a fellow fencer, both eighteen years old, while at a meet at Duisburg in 1961 wanted to ask for political asylum because they were not admitted to medical school. In the end nothing came of their plan but apparently Béla Bay, the famous fencing master, told the story to János Kádár and György Aczél, Kádár's right-hand man and architect of the regime's cultural policies, and asked them whether they could do something for these youngsters. According to this version, this is how Schmitt ended up as a student of economics. These rumors may have some truth to them, but the fact is that Schmitt was admitted to the Karl Marx University of Economics in 1960, not 1961 or after. He graduated in 1965.
As soon as he graduated he began working in the hotel industry where he made quite a career for himself. He ended up being deputy director of two important hotels of the day: the Astoria and the Fórum.
In 1981 he left the hotel business and moved on to sports management. By 1983 he was the deputy director of the National Office of Physical Education and Sports, a very high position with deputy ministerial rank. That's why the Slovak liberal paper Sme pointed out that this is the first time that a man who held a high government post in the Kádár regime will be the president of the republic.
Schmitt's official biography is short and sweet and forgets to mention certain events, some admittedly at the level of rumor, that Schmitt doesn't like to remember. For example, apparently Schmitt wanted to become president of the International Olympic Committee. So he asked for the post of ambassador to Madrid to be close to Juan Antonio Samaranch, the seventh president of the IOC. Five years later, in 1999, he made sure that he was transferred to Bern because he wanted to be close to the headquarters of the IOC. In fact, in 2001 he ran for the post but ended up fourth in the race.
Apparently at this point he offered his services to MSZP, although this is not how Schmitt himself remembers it. According to his version, which appeared in Magyar Nemzet (June 18, 2002), Ildikó Lendvai, who then was party chief of Budapest, and Tibor Bakony, deputy party chief, approached him to be the MSZP candidate for lord mayor of Budapest. When Ildikó Lendvai was asked about this offer, her answer was "asked him the hangman/kérte a hóhér"–meaning it was a brazen lie.
Rebuffed by MSZP, he then decided to run as an "independent" with Fidesz backing. He lost pretty badly, but for one reason or another Orbán decided that Schmitt might be useful later on. Shortly after the 2002 elections he "gave up his independence, joined Fidesz and immediately became deputy party chief. A year later at the first European parliamentary elections he headed the Fidesz list. Five years later, after a not particularly distinguished career as a member of the Fidesz team, he no longer headed the list, but he nonetheless became one of the deputy speakers of the European parliament. In 2010 he became a member of the Hungarian parliament and was catapulted into the seat of speaker of the house. It didn't take long before he was nominated by Viktor Orbán for the job of president.
Friends and foes alike point out that Schmitt is a pliable fellow (someone called him "a man made out of rubber") and is quite ready to serve anyone if that serves his purpose. He is right now very grateful and already assured the Fidesz parliamentary delegation that "he will not be an obstacle to the legislative momentum of the parliament." In fact, he will be "its motor." In brief, he will sign anything they put in front of his nose.
Meanwhile I have the feeling that enemies of Pál Schmitt are busily gathering incriminating evidence from his past. At least that was my impression after reading a few blogs.