I don’t particularly like the term “elite,” especially when I look around and find many members of the so-called elite wanting. Wanting both intellectually and morally. Moreover, the elite comes in many different stripes–for instance, the business elite, the political elite, and the so-called intellectual elite. What Hungarians think of the political elite we know only too well. Among the business elite, the little we know about it, there is not much to admire. I think it is enough to listen to the recordings of the telephone conversations between Sándor Csányi, CEO of the largest Hungarian bank, and the managing directors of UD Zrt. The conversations sound like telephone calls between members of the mafia.
But here I would like to write about the intellectual elite. Members of universities, research institutes, and naturally members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. While in the West this group’s political views tend toward liberalism, in Hungary this is not the case. I don’t know of any surveys on the political attitudes of the Hungarian intellectual elite, but I wouldn’t be surprised if half of this group inclines toward right-wing parties.
Many political commentators claim that during right-wing governments the right-wing intellectuals wholeheartedly supported the government just as during the socialist-liberal governments the liberal intellectuals stood solidly behind their favorite government. I think that this claim is inaccurate when it comes to the socialist-liberal members of the intellectual elite because in the last twenty years this group was not entirely homogeneous, as it is not homogeneous now. Some are more to the left, others exhibit more of a liberal persuasion. The supporters of SZDSZ always looked upon MSZP with suspicion and were also critical of its policies and individual members of the party. Often, personal dislikes colored their attitudes. It’s enough to recall, for example, László Kéri and László Lengyel who developed a visceral hatred of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Both men made their feelings clear in interviews and in writings. In brief, the socialist-liberal intellectuals’ support of the Horn, Medgyessy, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai governments was far less solid than the right-wing intellectuals’ support of Fidesz is today. I would claim that by the end of 2009 the left-liberal intellectual elite abandoned the government altogether.
This has not been the case with the very loyal right-wingers among the intellectuals. They were loyal to Fidesz and Viktor Orbán throughout the eight years in the “wilderness.” It didn’t matter how unacceptable the Fidesz politicians’ behavior was, this group always wholeheartedly supported the party. A good description of their behavior can be found in an op/ed piece by Zsuzsanna Körmendy entitled “Loyalty” that appeared in Magyar Nemzet today.
It seems this loyalty is being tested by the events surrounding President Pál Schmitt’s plagiarism case. The ground for this change was preceded by their disappointment over the attitude of Fidesz concerning the opening of the archives without the current restrictions on the state security documents that would include the list of informers.
But the real test case is this plagiarism case. After all, this is a subject that is close to these academics’ hearts. They must know that Schmitt’s dissertation is perhaps the most blatant plagiarism case attached to a high-level politician that has come to light anywhere in the western world. Also, they must be painfully aware that this scandal casts a shadow on their own scientific accomplishments. Sure, this dissertation was submitted to a university that basically trains gym teachers, but still it is a Hungarian university and most Hungarian academics received their degrees from a university inside the country.
Cautious voices could be heard in the last couple of days coming from the Academy and the Batthyány Circle of Professors indicating that perhaps not all’s well with Schmitt’s dissertation. When I say “cautious” I mean almost cowardly. First the president of the Academy, József Pálinkás, released a statement on March 28. The case, according to Pálinkás, “is surely politically motivated which by now has become an international scandal.” He blames the Kádár regime for Schmitt’s plagiarism even though the president received the degree in 1992, that is after the regime change, because, according to him, Schmitt “received his degree according to procedures that were not without precedent.” In brief, Pálinkás claims that degrees given out during the Kádár regime may be suspect. Not exactly a truthful or a brave statement. However, he did add that the fact finding committee made its opinion public and “the author as well as the readers of the dissertation are responsible.” He emphasized that it is in the common interest of politics and the scientific community that this case is closed as soon as possible because “it does injury to the Hungarian scientific community” and inflicts harm on the country.
A day later, on March 29, came the professors of the Batthyány Circle who most likely were emboldened by Pálinkás’s cautious words. Actually, they were braver than the president of the Academy and even suggested Schmitt’s resignation. They added that it was a mistake to grant the College of Physical Education university status, which happened in 1989. However, the change of status, as far as I know, is not significant here because the Testnevelési Főiskola (College of Physical Education) was able to grant these mini-doctorates even before that date.
One of the members of the Batthyány Circle of Professors who has the reputation of being more moderate than the rest, Frigyes Solymosi, a day earlier expressed his private opinion to György Bolgár of Klubrádió that the president should resign. But even that moderate right-winger described the act of plagiarism in this case as “trickery” or a “prank” (turpisság), a term I think is most inappropriate in this case. This is a serious matter and not some kind of prank. He even had some suggestions for Schmitt’s successor: either József Pálinkás or E. Szilveszter Vizy, the former president of the Academy. Vizy is a very conservative man and a great supporter of Fidesz. Pálinkás is the one who is behind changing the name of Roosevelt Square to Széchenyi Square. I would put Pálinkás squarely in the right wing of Fidesz.
Maybe one day Scmitt’s dream will become true
However, we don’t have to worry about successors for the moment. Schmitt announced tonight that he has no intention of resigning and in fact is planning to write a brand new dissertation. This time a real one. He will then be able to use the Ph.D. designation that he has already used in English-language publications. Those of us who went through the arduous process of writing a Ph.D. dissertation know that nothing can possibly come of Schmitt’s grandiose plan. He has neither the background nor the ability to write such an opus.
But just in case, perhaps you could suggest possible dissertation topics to Schmitt.