The first reaction to the report of the committee of five investigating President Pál Schmitt’s plagiarism came from the always eager-beaver Christian Democrats. The party was pleased to hear the verdict because “this will put an end to the political attacks” on Schmitt. The official press release of KDNP stated that the report “represents a closure to suppositions that questioned the originality of the president’s dissertation.” It seems that the KDNP politicians read a different summary of the findings of the committee than I did.
A few minutes later Fidesz’s spokeswoman, Gabriella Selmeczi, announced that “given the findings of the committee Fidesz considers the case closed.” I’m afraid it is only wishful thinking that the case is closed. If anything, the outcry has intensified.
Naturally, all the opposition parties are demanding Schmitt’s resignation. DK was the first democratic party to comment. Csaba Molnár, deputy chairman and leader of the non-existent parliamentary caucus, made sure that everybody understands what plagiarism is all about: it is stealing. And what kind of an excuse is it that Schmitt is not guilty because he wasn’t told that he was stealing? He likened the situation to someone who stole a couple of items in Tesco and complained to the police that after all he didn’t see any sign saying “Stealing is forbidden.” DK threatened a demonstration if Schmitt doesn’t announce his intention to resign.
LMP not only threatened a demonstration but immediately announced a flash mob event in front of the parliament building. Considering that there were only a few hours between the announcement and the beginning of the event, a sizeable crowd gathered on Kossuth Square.
Flash mob, March 27, 2912 (MTI)
MSZP called on Viktor Orbán to give “the ukase” to Schmitt to resign. However, considering reports on the reactions of Fidesz’s inner circle after the outbreak of the scandal, the likelihood of Viktor Orbán telling Schmitt to get out of the way is close to nil. In fact, Fidesz is preparing a strategy that ignores the whole thing. This has been Fidesz’s long-standing response to any event that is considered to be unpleasant or injurious to the party. If they don’t talk about it, the problem will disappear. And most of the time the strategy has worked very well.
According to Origo, each member of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation received an sms early yesterday afternoon forbidding them to make any comments whatsoever about the affair. The MPs will most likely obey, but some of them privately admitted to Origo‘s reporter that they are less than satisfied with the conclusions of the committee. However, it was also clear that most of them expected that kind of verdict because of “the incredible pressure” on the committee members. The pressure naturally came from Fidesz and the government. Apparently among the top party leaders the majority felt that Schmitt should resign with the notable exception of Viktor Orbán who from day one maintained that “we have to defend” Schmitt. We know that László Kövér was against the appointment of Schmitt in the first place because he considered him a light-weight and apparently after HVG’s revelations he said to Orbán: “Didn’t I tell you?”
However, what Orbán decides goes. The majority, including Kövér, might have thought that it would be better to get rid of Schmitt, but Orbán thought otherwise. From here on Orbán will have to take responsibility for whatever happens.
Not only are the Fidesz MPs tight-mouthed. No one in the academic community wants to talk about it. Index went around and talked to officials at several universities. At ELTE the reporter was told that nothing like that had happened at the university in thirty years and therefore there is no opinion on how the university would handle such a case. In Debrecen the administration was too busy handing out honorary degrees. The spokesman for Corvinus sent the reporter to the university’s website where one can find the rules and regulations governing Ph.D. dissertations at their institution. He didn’t want to comment on the Schmitt case. In Pécs the spokesman for the university said that he didn’t want to talk about the case on the telephone. In Szeged the situation was the same, but the deputy president in charge of academic affairs didn’t answer the reporter’s e-mail either. Index tried to get something out of László Fésüs, who heads the Committee on Ethics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He also refused, which is not surprising because József Pálinkás, president of the Academy, made it clear some time ago that Schmitt’s case has nothing to do with his institution.
Meanwhile the 1,157-page report seems to be making the rounds. The members of the committee investigating the case at Semmelweis got rid of the document as soon as possible. They sent it over to the Ministry of Natural Resources where the minister, Miklós Réthelyi, himself a faculty member at Semmelweis prior to his appointment to his current job, refused the open the package and sent it back to Semmelweis. Clearly the Schmitt case is a hot potato and no one wants to be burned by it.
One person may already have been burned. András Stumpf, a journalist at the right-wing Heti Válasz, wrote a short opinion piece within a couple of hours of the release of the committee’s report. Its somewhat sarcastic title was “Hajrá, Elnök Úr!” “Hajrá” means something like “to the finish.” It is a signature word of Viktor Orbán, who usually concludes his speeches with “Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!” Stumpf called the conclusion “very thin, very cowardly.” Ignorance of the rule is irrelevant. Stumpf argued that the university has to share responsibility because of its very low standards. One can imagine what a “kupleráj” there had to be at the university, said Stumpf. The root meaning of “kupleráj” is brothel, but in this case it means “chaos,” “disarray.” Stumpf, referring to one of the paragraphs of the law governing doctoral dissertations mentioned in the report, claimed that the university must revoke Schmitt’s degree.
A few hours later András Stumpf’s opinion piece was removed from Heti Válasz‘s website. Oh, but the wonderful world of the Internet! Another right-wing site, mandiner.hu, downloaded and published it, and now the short piece is circulating. I received at least three e-mails containing the link to mandiner and to be on the safe side I downloaded it too. Who knows when Mandiner will be forced to take it off its site. What will happen to Stumpf, I have no idea. It all depends on Viktor Orbán. I’m not kidding.
Meanwhile, Pál Schmitt sent a statement from South Korea where he was amiably chatting with President Barack Obama that he has no intention of resigning. The conclusions of the report “are a kind of redress” in his eyes. He sees no connection between his doctoral dissertation and his current job and therefore he “never for a moment thought of resignation.”
Schmitt may not see any connection between the plagiarism and his current office, but a lot of people do, both in Hungary and abroad. The question is whether pressure can be brought to bear on the government. Given the general lack of Hungarian enthusiasm for standing against the undemocratic tide that is sweeping through Hungary, I doubt it.