By now my strong suspicion is that Pál Schmitt, president of Hungary, didn’t write a single line of his 1992 doctoral thesis. First someone found 180 pages of material copied from the French. A few days later another 17 stolen pages were discovered. This time from a German author’s English-language article. As someone wittily remarked: Schmitt’s thesis is becoming international. So, 18 pages remain unaccounted for, but I got the impression yesterday that someone is still in hot pursuit and perhaps even has an inkling where these pages came from. Thus the members of the future committee that is supposed to “investigate” the case will not have to work terribly hard.
Oh, yes, the future committee. Népszabadság reported today that the dean of Semmelweis University’s graduate school is in something of a quandary. He tried to find people who know something about the subject and who know French. All the people he approached about becoming a member of the committee declined the honor. It shows the guts of Hungarian academics. After all, this is a touchy issue, a political one, and these brave men would rather not get involved.
Mind you, József Pálinkás, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, also declined to get mixed up in this “sordid” affair. He claims that the particular doctoral title Schmitt acquired by writing the thesis in question is not a recognized academic designation. Apparently that is not the case, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from Pálinkás. Moreover, according to the law governing the competence of the Academy, it is this institution’s duty to guard the “purity” of scientific life of the country.
Pollsters immediately investigated Hungarians’ attitude toward plagiarism. Medián was the first to tackle the issue and the results are interesting. The first surprising fact is that 90% of the people knew about Schmitt’s plagiarism case. 25% of them mentioned it spontaneously as one of the important events of the past week. Half of the participants in the survey considered Schmitt’s plagiarism of his dissertation a very serious affair. However, when only pro-government voters’ answers were tallied they were a great deal more forgiving. The least understanding lot were the voters of MSZP, LMP, and DK.
Not surprisingly, educational attainment matters in people’s judgment. When asked whether Schmitt should resign, respondents with an eighth-grade education were the most forgiving: only 22% of them thought Schmitt should leave office. But even those with a college education were rather generous toward the president. Only 42% would want him to disappear from public life.
The most incredible results were recorded when Medián collected answers on the basis of party affiliation. Only 6% of Fidesz voters said that Schmitt should resign while 77% of MSZP, LMP, and DK voters demanded his departure. 28% of Jobbik voters and 30% of unaffiliated voters answered in the affirmative concerning Schmitt’s resignation. The overall results are rather disappointing: only 33% of Hungarians demand Schmitt’s resignation, 42% think he should remain in office, and 25% have no opinion. Those in the minority demonstrated this afternoon in front of Sándor Palace. I liked the poster pictured below. By dropping the L from PÁL, the message was “Schmitt bye-bye.”
Bye-bye, Pál Schmitt
For those of us who are sticklers about cheating, plagiarism, and in general stealing other people’s ideas these results seem disappointing, but in the case of German defense minister Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg the German public was equally forgiving. In fact, even a little more so: 28% of people in a representative survey said he should resign and 68% said he should stay.
I don’t know whether party affiliation made such a huge difference in the final results in the German case, but in the Hungarian case the discrepancy in figures is striking. Attachment to Fidesz clouds even the minds of academics. A good example is Rezső Lovas, the president of an academic Fidesz fan club called the Batthyány Circle of Professors, who had difficulty deciding what can be considered plagiarism. After it became known that 180 pages of the thesis were copied from a Bulgarian researcher’s French-language work, Lovas said to the reporter of Népszabadság that “drawing material has many forms and between quotation and outright plagiarization there is constant transition…. Therefore finding proof is unlikely just as not everybody would believe its opposite.”
I saw a video where university students were asked about Schmitt’s plagiarism case, and very few unequivocally condemned plagiarism. There was a girl who pretty well admitted that plagiarism is more or less okay but that what Schmitt did was over the top. I guess she took to heart the advice of this poster:
Just let’s not overdo it
Népszabadság picked up a story yesterday which says a lot about the Fidesz mentality. There is a young Fidesz politician in the County of Heves who decided to defend Pál Schmitt publicly on his blog. His name is Sándor Oroján, one of the bright stars of Fidesz’s youth organization, Fidelitas. In his defense of Schmitt, Oroján found nothing wrong with the president presenting someone else’s work as his own. “Who didn’t cheat in school? … And is it such a grave sin that a doctoral dissertation written twenty years ago agrees more or less with an earlier study written in a different language?”
Zoltán Ceglédi, a young and very sharp political scientist, wrote an excellent opinion piece on the Oroján phenomenon in Hírszerző. The title of his article is: “A perfect Fidesz cadre.” It turned out that Oroján is one of those hundreds of young Fidesz politicians who finished the Századvég program that prepares them for political careers. Ceglédi finds the young Fidesz cadre’s moral attitude deplorable.
One of the problems with Fidesz voter reactions to Schmitt at the moment is that the followers don’t know yet what the party line is. Viktor Orbán didn’t tell them what to think. Once a decision is made on top one way or the other, the flock will follow. As many people claim, belonging to the Fidesz family is like being a member of a church.