István Tarlós, lord mayor of Budapest, in an interview on MTV’s early morning program “Ma Reggel” (This morning), announced that “the person who after some twenty years, God knows how long he pursued his goal to cause harm to Mr. Pál Schmitt, should have thought about the damage he inflicted on the country.” Tarlós, in brief, blamed HVG and the man who brought the story to the magazine for “causing trouble.” I have the feeling that a lot of people think exactly the same as Tarlós. That is, the actual plagiarism is irrelevant; dredging up Schmit’s dissertation was a political attack pure and simple concocted by the left-liberal media and people who are antagonistic toward the current Hungarian government.
Csaba Horváth, chairman of the Budapest chapter of MSZP, called on Tarlós to take his words back. It seemed to Horváth that for Tarlós “hiding the truth, covering up cheating, rescuing a cheat from punishment is more useful to the country than discovering the truth and exposing a fraud…. Such a man cannot be the first citizen of Hungary’s capital.” Unfortunately Tarlós’s opinion is now that of the Hungarian government as well.
Pál Schmitt resigned today, but he wouldn’t admit to plagiarism. He seems to be convinced that the whole plagiarism case was a political attack concocted by a “blogger.” How this mysterious blogger came into the picture no one knows. HVG is certainly not a blog. I assume that the line of defense developed in Schmitt’s speech is not the product of his own brilliant mind but that the text was written for him by the communication experts of Fidesz. Therefore, I think it is safe to say that the kind of reasoning we find in the speech reflects the communication strategy Fidesz and the Orbán government will pursue in the days to come.
Resignation speech of Pál Schmitt (YouTube)
The main thrust of this strategy is to argue that at a time when Hungary is under such fierce attack from abroad, mostly at the instigation of the domestic enemies of the government of national unity, these same forces decided to undermine the prestige of the president in order to further weaken the Orbán government. Thus, Schmitt is just an innocent victim of a political vendetta.
Such a strategy would nicely supplement the propaganda that is constantly being fed to Fidesz believers about the international financial “mafia” and the liberal and socialist foreign politicians who want to penalize the Hungarian government for levying taxes on the usurious banks and the multinational companies who settled in Hungary only to make themselves rich at the expense of the poor Hungarian people.
The second attack by the government seems to aim at the academic community. From János Lázár’s speech it became evident that he blames the whole Hungarian scientific community for the situation created by the Schmitt case. According to him, Tivadar Tulassay, the president of Semmelweis University, “cannot run away.” He must finish his term, which will end in three months, and take responsibility for what transpired in the university. Lázár accused the Hungarian academic community of “not facing the fact that before the regime change many degrees were granted without real achievement.” Academe also must be “renewed” just like the Orbán government is “renewing” the whole country.
This renewal of the academic community fits in well with Fidesz’s strident anti-communism, and it strengthens the alleged revolutionary nature of the Orbán regime. A complete break with the past is necessary. Everything that happened before 2010 is tainted and needs investigation. The scientific community is no exception. He pretty well suggested checking every doctoral dissertation written in the Kádár regime or even after.
If I were Lázár or Orbán I wouldn’t pick a fight with the academic community. Behind Tivadar Tulassay stand the students who are demonstrating on his behalf and the powerful Hungarian Medical Association. Moreover, even József Pálinkás, a former Fidesz member of parliament and now president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, immediately responded to Lázár’s suggestions. He announced that there is no capacity or reason to review all doctoral dissertations. In his opinion only a very small percentage of theses contain plagiarized material. In his own field, nuclear research, between 1977 and 1993 there was not one plagiarism case. If a person has doubts about someone else’s doctoral dissertation he should go to the university where the degree was granted where they will do the investigation.
All in all, I would lower the volume. Lázár is not serving the Fidesz cause well by blaming others, members of academe or liberal journalists, for their bad luck with Schmitt. Because, let’s face it, it is Viktor Orbán’s fault that he picked a dolt to be the president who doesn’t even seem to grasp the concept of plagiarism. From the point of view of the government parties the best strategy would be to remain quiet and try to pick a president who is more acceptable to the opposition and large percentage of the population.