I will start in the middle of the story that has rocked Budapest–Pál Schmitt’s alleged plagiarism. It seems that all the “conspiracy-theory” speculation about who is behind the discovery is most likely without foundation.
Here is the background in brief. Yesterday afternoon HVG published the bombshell. The current president of Hungary, Pál Schmitt, most likely plagiarized about 180 pages of a 215-page doctoral dissertation in 1992. The title bestowed on him is not a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) although he is trying to pass it off as such; it is more the equivalent of an M.A. Since then, with the introduction of the Bologna system, this type of degree no longer exists.
It turned out–and the supporting evidence seems very solid–that Pál Schmitt, Olympic fencer, chairman of the Hungarian Olympic Committee and member of the International Olympic Committee, used Nikolai Georgiev’s study Analyse du programme olympique (des Jeux d’Olympiade), originally written in 1987, without acknowledging his deep indebtedness. Georgiev’s work was a two-volume typewritten study of the Olympic games later published in book form (1996) with the title Analyse du programme des Jeux Olympiques 1896-1996. In addition to the approximately 180 pages Schmitt translated from Georgiev’s 1987 study and passed off as his own, he also copied out about a page word for word from another book written in English by Georgiev with Hristo Meranzov in 1985.
After the article outlining the details of the alleged plagiarism, conspiracy theories proliferated. The timing seemed awfully suspicious to the Hungarian public. For some time there has been speculation that Viktor Orbán has a long cherished plan: if his political fortunes as prime minister turn sour he would move on to the position of president. Admittedly, Orbán craves power and currently the Hungarian president has mighty little of that, but because of the two-thirds majority that problem could always be remedied. This speculation got some extra fuel when it was discovered that the new law on the status of the president passed by the Fidesz majority included the provision that after a minimum of two years in office a retiring president would be entitled to all the privileges hitherto given only after five years on the job. I might add here that Schmitt became president of the republic on August 5, 2010. So, the two years aren’t up yet.
Given this background and the long-standing rumors about the alleged plans of Viktor Orbán, it is not at all surprising that rumors flared up again about Viktor Orbán’s secret plans. A lot of people suspected that Fidesz itself leaked the story of plagiarism, thus providing an opportunity for the removal of Schmitt. Others, myself included, consider this a rather embarrassing and painful solution to the task of readying the presidency for Viktor Orbán.
This afternoon we learned a lot about the background of the HVG article that described the discovery. Gábor Gavra, editor-in-chief of the weekly, gave an interview on György Bolgár’s radio program “Let’s Talk It Over.”
Although Gavra didn’t say much about the person who did the detective work, from the few things he did say I got the impression that the person must be some kind of an academic. He might even be a linguist or a literary historian because after reading Schmitt’s dissertation he got the impression that the Hungarian text showed signs of being a translation from another language. Whether he suspected French as the original language I don’t know.
The second indication that our detective is an academic is that he knows something about the curriculum of the College of Sports. When he read in an interview volume with Pál Schmitt that he “wrote his dissertation on the history of philosophy” he became mighty suspicious. Not exactly a normal dissertation topic in a college training mostly gym teachers.
Then came the Google research part of the detective work. Not surprisingly, our detective found only that Georgiev had published the book that appeared in 1996. The connection between the two works was striking but there was the problem of dates. Georgiev’s book was published four years after the Schmitt wrote his thesis.
A little more research and our detective found the original typewritten 465-page study in two volumes stored in the Olympics Museum’s library in Lausanne, Switzerland. It took our detective nine months to definitively establish the connection between Gregoriev’s typewritten study and Schmitt’s thesis.
Here are a couple of pages from the table of contents side by side. On the left Gregoriev’s French text and Schmitt’s Hungarian on the right:
After taking a look at the table of contents, it hard to argue with the conclusion that Pál Schmitt practically copied his whole thesis from Georgiev’s work. However, the president’s office (Köztársasági Elnöki Hivatal) tried, although not too convincingly. The fairly lengthy press release (579 words) is mostly a summary of the HVG article. The little it says about the alleged plagiarism is feeble: “Two history professors reviewed the work and found it excellent (summa cum laude).” Reading the text, I got the impression that Schmitt is trying to offload responsibility to the readers of his thesis. As for Georgiev, yes, Schmitt knew him and “during their research they collaborated.” The source for both works was the minutes of the International Olympic Committee. Since then, HVG talked to the daughter of the late Nikolai Georgiev who denied any such collaboration.
Plagiarism? I can’t even spell the word!
What Viktor Orbán will do–because it will be his decision–about Pál Schmitt is difficult to say. In any case, a chart of the legislative roles of the four Hungarian presidents became a great deal shorter than it was a few days ago.
It seems that someone didn’t want to make it too obvious that only Schmitt’s name was being removed, so all Fidesz-supported presidents’ names were erased. Árpád Göncz alone remained.
György Bazsa, the president of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee, announced that “most likely there will be a need to investigate the case.” I might add that Bazsa was an MSZP member of parliament between 1998 and 2002.
On the other hand, Károly Rácz, dean of Semmelweis University’s doctoral program, wasn’t that brave. He kept emphasizing that in 1992 when Schmitt received his degree, the College of Sports wasn’t affiliated with Semmelweis and therefore he and his department have nothing to do with the whole affair. I beg to differ. I think once Semmelweis took over the College of Sports it took over its past dirt as well.
I checked out the two professors who had such an excellent opinion of Schmitt’s thesis. Put it this way, after reading their curriculum vitae one is not terribly surprised about the state of higher education in Hungary.