Let me start by saying what hasn’t happened since January 12 when I first reported on the alleged plagiarism of Hungary’s president in 1992 when he turned in a doctoral dissertation, a kind of M.A. thesis, which was deemed of such high quality that it merited the designation summa cum laude.
Perhaps it will not surprise anyone that Pál Schmitt said nothing about the matter and the university that granted the degree did not feel compelled to begin an investigation of the case. Today, however, it was promised that the president will say something about the affair on Wednesday.
What will he say? Given the official and semi-official announcements of the last four days I have no doubt that, despite all appearances to the contrary, Schmitt will deny the accusation of plagiarism. A denial despite the growing evidence that seems to suggest that even the translation of the thesis from the French original wasn’t done by Pál Schmitt although, according to his curriculum vitae available on the website of his office, he speaks French. Maybe, but by now who knows?
Official Hungary seems to be closing ranks behind President Schmitt. András Giró-Szász, spokesman for the government, announced that “the president is an institution and the government has only one task: to support the president without conditions and in every instance.” Péter Szijjártó, personal spokesman of the prime minister himself, also made it clear that Viktor Orbán is not planning–at least for the time being–to do anything about this embarrassing affair. On the contrary, he indicated that this “tabloid gossip” is part of an international conspiracy. After all, isn’t it strange that the story showed up in HVG a day after the Hungarian president “very emphatically defended Hungary against foreign attacks” in front of members of the Budapest diplomatic corps. Since in the last few days the pluckiest defender of Hungary’s honor has been Foreign Minister János Martonyi it was almost inevitable that he would also say something in defense of Pál Schmitt. “If the president claims that he didn’t plagiarize, I believe in his words,” said Martonyi. The International Olympic Committee also trusts Schmitt’s integrity and supports him.
On the other hand, the silence of Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education, is telling. Hoffmann is a moralist and a disciplinarian who only a few months ago maintained that plagiarism is a crime and if her ministry finds out about cases of plagiarism it will immediately report them to the police. HVG tried to find out Hoffmann’s opinion of this particular case but, surprise, surprise, she had nothing to say.
The dean of the graduate school of Semmelweis University that took over the university of sports from which Schmitt got his degree is trying to get out of a sticky situation. He defended the reputation of the university by emphasizing that “the decision [to grant the degree] was well founded and appropriate.” As we will see later, this was not necessarily the case.
One of the readers of the thesis also spoke out. Naturally he still thinks that Schmitt’s thesis was “thorough and illuminating.” He also considers the allegation of plagiarism unfounded and nothing more than “a political attack” on Schmitt. He was flattered “when asked to be one of the readers of a two-time Olympic champion.” And just to give an idea of the academic integrity of the man, he ended the interview with the remark: “If Schmitt were not the president of the country no one would give a damn how he managed to get a doctorate.” Nice!
All in all, for the time being it seems that the Orbán government is not planning to ask President Schmitt to retire but, of course, this attitude may change if the situation becomes untenable.
Let me summarize an article that appeared on Galamus by László Pap, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and a professor at the Polytechnic Insitute. In his youth he was actively involved in sports. He is still interested in all sorts of sports and therefore is familiar with the special vocabulary associated with sports. He came to the conclusion that the person who translated Pál Schmitt’s thesis from the French knew the language but knew next to nothing about the language of sports in Hungarian. He gives several examples of mistranslations. Thus, it looks as if Schmitt didn’t even bother to read the rough translation to correct the Hungarian mistranslations of the French sports vocabulary.
Pap also doubts that the two readers were objective critics when it came to judging the “opus” of the former Olympian and the head of the Hungarian National Committee because the text is “clearly no more than a rough translation.” It seems that Schmitt knew that some of the Hungarian words the translator provided were wrong because at one point he added to the text: “In Hungarian we call that “absolute category,” instead of “all category” as it was translated. But it seems that Schmitt was either lazy or so pressed for time that he corrected this particular mistake only once although “all category” appeared at least twenty times in the text.
It seems, Pap continues, that the readers didn’t ask the author of the thesis where he got this very strange category. Moreover, according to Pap every page has several close to incomprehensible sentences and “grave spelling errors.” How could these people give highest honors for such an inferior and suspicious work?
One reason for the readers’ ecstasy over Schmitt’s thesis might have been that both of them were involved with the Hungarian Olympic Committee. In fact, one of them became a member of the Hungarian Olympic Academy’s Council in 1992, the same year that Schmitt received his doctorate and his thesis was found to be of such excellent quality.
And finally, a group of academics, mostly historians, sent a petition to the Ministry of National Resources where Rózsa Hoffmann is in charge of education and asked for an “investigation of the case.” They pointed out that if Pál Schmitt’s plagiarism allegation is not cleared one way or the other, the value of Hungarian degrees will suffer. Among the signers of the document is our “Gábor.”