The signs are unmistakable. Ever since it became evident that Pál Schmitt didn’t write 99% of his dissertation the Right began to wake up. I already mentioned the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ very cautious statement about academic integrity, followed by the somewhat braver announcement of the Batthyány Circle of Professors. At the same time the right-wing media, specifically Heti Válasz and Magyar Nemzet, began calling for Schmitt’s resignation. Initially, Gábor Borókai, spokesman for the first Orbán government and editor-in-chief of Heti Válasz, removed the article from the paper’s website and began disciplinary action against András Stumpf, the author of the opinion piece. However, once Magyar Nemzet came out with its own demand for Schmitt’s resignation, Borókai became suddenly courageous and published an editorial reflecting the paper’s new stand on the issue.
And that was just the beginning. After the Christian Democratic parliamentary caucus published a statement in which the KDNP MPs expressed their satisfaction that the fact-finding committee had found the university guilty and hoped that its conclusion would put an end to the affair, which they labelled “a political attack,” came the chairman of the Budapest chapter of KDNP, Botond Szalma, who found his party’s attitude unacceptable. Those who try to deny or minimize Schmitt’s guilt should be punished, he claimed. As some liberal commentators pointed out, that list could start with Péter Szijjártó, who called the news about the possible plagiariasm no more than unfounded gossip.
Naturally, Botond Szalma received many invitations for interviews, mostly from the liberal media. I heard two of them. One with György Bolgár on March 29 and the second with Olga Kálmán on March 31. He struck me as a straightforward man who takes the tenets of Christian democracy very seriously. His trouble, as we will find out a bit later, started with his interview with Olga Kálmán. He repeated that KDNP must exhibit high moral standards especially since, in his opinion, there is a moral crisis in the country. When Kálmán pointed out to him that he seems to be going against his party’s leadership, he repeated his belief that his way was the right way. Kálmán noted that his fight seems to be a very lonely one. Szalma retorted that Jesus Christ was also alone at the beginning but eventually the twelve apostles followed him. To Kálmán’s somewhat skeptical inquiry whether there will be people within his own party who will follow his lead, Szalma answered: “There will be, but not just from KDNP but all people of good will–Fidesz, KDNP, MSZP, DK, LMP and independents.”
At this point Kálmán expressed her fear that Szalma might be in some danger within his own party. Szalma remained defiant. The Budapest chapter is independent and the whole leadership is behind him. They are convinced that this is the right thing to do. He also admitted that although the party/parties had eight years to prepare, “they were not ready for governing.” As for Schmitt, he can’t tell Schmitt what to do, but if he had been the president he wouldn’t be in office today. He can only suggest retirement that could been spent with his grandchildren in the United States.
After this interview all hell broke loose in KDNP circles. Disciplinary proceedings were initiated against Szalma because he went against the official policy. György Rubovszky, who has the rather strange title of party prosecutor, explained to Népszabadság that at the end of the investigation it is possible that Szalma will be dismissed from the party. What seemed to have really incensed the good Christians was that among the “apostles” MSZP members were also mentioned. “That must be investigated,” said the party prosecutor.
From what Rubovszky told Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság, I gathered that the KDNP official line on the Schmitt affair was adopted after Zsolt Semjén, chairman of the party, talked to Viktor Orbán. So, whatever the Christian Democrats said has to reflect Viktor Orbán’s current thinking on the matter. And that position is that “as far as the KDNP is concerned the affair is closed.”
However, there is not only one lonely rebel in KDNP in the person of Botond Szalma. Several politicians of the Budapest chapter also “find it incredible that Schmitt hasn’t resigned yet.” Moreover, they consider Schmitt’s interviews on MTV and MR “morally unacceptable.” They told the reporter: “What does that have to do with Christianity, we are asking here below. Especially just before Easter. And we’d better not mention that it was Pál Schmitt who signed the Easter Constitution. But the KDNP leadership doesn’t even hear what we are saying. Or if they do, the party prosecutor is threatening us with expulsion.”
And that’s not all. There are a number of conservative blogs. Among others Mandiner, Jobbklikk, Konzervatórium, and Mos Maiorum. These four blogs published a joint statement in which they called for the resignation of Pál Schmitt. They emphasized that they respect Schmitt as a sportsman and an Olympic champion, but he happens to be the president of the country. And the president is supposed to embody the unity of the nation and symbolize decency and honesty. His reputation had already greatly eroded in the last two years, but the plagiarism case puts an end to his political career. Schmitt could provide a good example to politicians by behaving in a sportsmanlike fashion and resigning. If he did, he would help change the image of Hungary as a country without consequences.
And the final blow. The president of Semmelweis University, Tivadar Tulassay, resigned. The reason is that he no longer feels the support of the ministry and the government as a whole. That is a polite way of informing the world that someone told Tulassay that he is no longer viewed as a team player. That person can only be Viktor Orbán or his designated spokesman. It seems that Orbán was expecting the Doctoral Council or at least the University Senate to whitewash the plagiarism. After all, the fact-finding committee’s composition was supposed to ensure that Pál Schmitt would be able to survive the incident. But even they couldn’t come up with unequivocal exoneration. Yet there was still hope, and then came the faculty of Semmelweis University.
Orbán, I’m sure, was hoping that Tulassay would do what was expected of him. Both he and his family are from Debrecen and are close to Fidesz. In fact, it was Tulassay who was first asked to serve as minister of national resources, the position Miklós Réthelyi, the former president of Semmelweis, currently occupies.Tulassay turned down the offer. Yet in the final analysis his professional integrity trumped his party loyalty.
What else does Viktor Orbán need to be convinced that what he is doing is hurting his own party and his government? I guess we will see in the next few days.