The story of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s senior paper

I guess it is time to say something about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s senior paper. Some of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum reproached me for not bringing up the subject as soon as HírTV, a right-wing television station, leveled the charge of plagiarism against him. They especially objected to the fact that I wrote about the plagiarized doctoral dissertation of President Pál Schmitt immediately after HVG published the details.

Yes, I did, but I thought that in that case there was no question that Schmitt plagiarized. The proof was right there in front of our eyes. HVG’s journalists did a fantastic job of making sure that the paper’s revelations were based on facts. I could compare the French and Hungarian texts and I was convinced. I therefore felt that I could write about it and take a definite position: no question, this is plagiarism.

On the other hand, I decided not to deal with HírTV’s accusations because the television station, unlike HVG, couldn’t produce any proof. The only thing they did was to raise suspicion.

In addition, there were other disturbing factors that made me cautious. The whole affair began with an April 2 article in Pécsi Újság, a local right-wing Internet paper, according to which “rumors are spreading in Pécs that something is not quite right with Gyurcsány’s senior paper.” The first claim was that Gyurcsány, as KISZ secretary of the college, didn’t even write a senior paper. After all, KISZ secretaries were in a privileged position and the “comrades” could pretty much do whatever they wanted.

A few hours later this local news reappeared in the nationwide Magyar Hírlap, a far-right publication. At this point Gyurcsány showed the appropriate page of his transcript (leckekönyv/index) where one could see the title of his senior essay and the grade of B (jó = 4) he received for his effort.  He also gave details about the senior paper he wrote six years later in 1990 when he received a second degree in economics.

One would have thought that the whole controversy surrounding his senior essay was over. After all, he showed that he wrote not one but two. And, indeed, for about two weeks there was no new development except that the dean of the faculty of sciences at Pécs University told Pécsi Újság that Gyurcsány’s senior essay had disappeared from the university’s archives. What complicated the case was that Gyurcsány couldn’t find his own copy. After all, almost thirty years had gone by. Moreover, as it turned out, Gyurcsány didn’t have the best educational experience at the teacher’s college in Pécs and most likely didn’t particularly care whether he kept a copy of that senior paper or not.

Then, on April 27, Magyar Nemzet mysteriously announced that “Friday night a lot can be learned about Gyurcsány’s senior essay.” And, as promised, HírTV’s “Célpont” (Target) aired the results of the investigative work of the program’s journalists. They contended that the title of Gyurcsány’s senior paper was identical to that of Zsolt Rozs’s paper written four years earlier. Rozs at that time was Gyurcsány’s brother-in-law.

At this point Gyurcsány made some contradictory statements. First, he expressed surprise that Rozs had written about the same topic. Later, he said that it was possible that he read the senior paper because at this point in his life he was often a guest in his parents-in-law’s house. Suspicion grew.

Two days later, on April 29, HírTV was certain that Gyurcsány’s senior paper which, according to them, was only 35 pages long, was no more than a verbatim copy of the first 35 pages of the brother-in-law’s senior paper. But how could they be certain when neither the brother-in-law’s nor Gyurcsány’s senior papers was available? The answer was that they reconstructed them on the basis of the reader’s comments on Gyurcsány’s paper and the “working copy”—whatever that is—of the brother-in-law’s paper. The station’s alleged proof didn’t convince a lot of people.

But the controversy didn’t want to subside. Gyurcsány realized that this was a serious business and by May 1 he outright called Zsolt Rozs and Rozs’s mother liars. He decided to ask for a police investigation into the disappearance of his senior paper from the University of Pécs. Even liberal publications, for example Magyar Narancs and ÉS, decided not to stand by him.

At this point, the university began investigating the disappearance of Gyurcsány’s senior essay. HírTV was obviously not quite satisfied with the results of their investigations and they kept collecting more information about Gyurcsány the student in 1984. They found a retired principal from an elementary school who claimed that Gyurcsány hadn’t completed his compulsory teaching exercises. According to the principal, Gyurcsány as a KISZ secretary was too busy and he simply skipped these duties.

A few days later it turned out that the principal who, according to my relatives in Pécs, is a stroke victim didn’t even know that he was talking to journalists. He had no idea that the conversation was being captured by a hidden camera, and he was greatly surprised when he saw himself onHírTV’s “Célpont” on Friday, May 4. He claimed later that the journalists misinterpreted what he said. He certainly didn’t give permission to skip the exercises which, according to him, Gyurcsány finished in due course. Again, Gyurcsány had to show his transcript to prove that this particular accusation was also false.

A few days later Magyar Nemzet “received a document that proves that a fellow party member, Dezső Rizner, was his senior adviser.” This accusation is rather funny considering that in those days there was only one party in Hungary. But what is even worse, it turned out that the document was bogus because Gyurcsány’s senior adviser was Mrs. József Scherdán.

Then ATV began to investigate in Pécs and found that it was common to have senior papers written on the same topics. Not only in Pécs but even at the prestigious Karl Marx (Corvinus) University.

On May 9 new accusations surfaced. According to Magyar Nemzet, a former professor claimed that he was teaching a compulsory subject but “he doesn’t remember Gyurcsány” from those days. Implication being, Gyurcsány, the KISZ secretary, skipped this examination too. In addition, Heti Válasz dredged up an old interview with Gyurcsány in which he allegedly claimed that after finishing teacher’s college in 1984 he didn’t take an entrance examination before entering the University of Pécs as a student of economics.

Again, Gyurcsány had to show that he attended the compulsory courses and received a grade of B. As for the entrance examination, Heti Válasz’s knowledge of academic rules and regulations was not quite complete. In those days students acquiring a second degree didn’t have to take a full-fledged entrance exam. The applicant only had to appear for a conversation (felvételi elbeszélgetés).

Meanwhile the investigation into the disappearance of the senior paper at the University of Pécs continued. On May 15 the university released its findings. Gyurcsány’s senior paper disappeared sometime between 1990 and 2000. There is proof that in 1990 it was still there but in 2000 it was missing. The final verdict was that the charge of plagiarism can be neither proved nor disapproved until the senior paper surfaces. On the basis of the comments there seem to be some overlap, but “these are general topics and plagiarism cannot be established.” Otherwise, Gyurcsány completed all the necessary exams and entered the department of economics with ministerial permission, as was then and is now a requirement.

So, this is where we stand. Well, not quite. Gabriella Selmeczi, spokeswoman of Fidesz, has come to the conclusion that Gyurcsány himself stole his own senior paper because he was the only one he knew before 2000 that he would enter politics. So, here we go again.