It looks to me as if the Hungarian academic community is closing ranks. Not necessarily because the people involved are supporters of the current government but because they realize that if a serious investigation of Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén’s so-called research is undertaken the greatest loser will be Hungarian academe.
What is the difference between the current plagiarism scandal and that of President Pál Schmitt? Schmitt’s was a open and shut case even if the Hungarian authorities took their own sweet time in reaching the right decision.The plagiarism was so blatant that there was never any question that the work Schmitt submitted was a translation of French and English texts and that not even the translation was his own. Moreover, the academic community could brush aside the case, claiming that a doctoral dissertation written for the College of Physical Education was “a joke.” Something like that could never happen at a “real” university.
And yet here we are. ELTE, one of the top universities if not the top, finds itself in the middle of a controversy. It turns out that the university bestowed a degree in sociology on Zsolt Semjén when the readers most likely knew that a large part of the senior paper (szakdolgozat) was simply copied from a mostly plagiarized dissertation submitted for the fulfillment of the requirements in another subject at another university. That other university was Péter Pázmány Catholic University, a favorite of the current government and the Christian Democratic Party, chaired by Semjén.
And today I’ll focus on another blot on Hungarian scholarship: the substandard textbook produced by one of the professors of Corvinus University. Corvinus otherwise has an excellent reputation as a university specializing in economics, finance, and business.
All in all, I’m not surprised that the scholars involved are eager to close the case. Because, let’s face it, it is deplorable that they set the bar so low that they accepted these two pieces of work and considered Semjén’s performance excellent. What does this say about the standards of Hungarian higher education? Or about education in general?
Now, on to the Corvinus textbook.
A few days ago I received the text of Géza Jeszenszky’s chapter on “Minorities in Hungary: The issue of the Roma (Gypsies. Minority self-government).” In an earlier post I called Jeszenszky a “lousy scholar.” Now that I have the full text I can reiterate the same with even greater emphasis.
I don’t know how much research went into this particular chapter but it couldn’t have been much. Jeszenszky wrote the English-language text himself without asking a native speaker to check it. Thus, in the very first sentence there is a grammatical error. Moreover, Jeszenszky is quite capable of writing the word “Gypsy” two different ways on two consecutive lines. Once properly and then as “Gipsy.”
I will not have time to go line by line and point out everything that I consider to belong to the realm of unacceptable scholarship. My observations will be general since I am not sufficiently familiar with the subject matter. But if one claims (and note that I’m not editing Jeszenszky’s English) that “the greatest number of Roma with full higher education in the whole of Europe is in Hungary, both in absolute and relative terms” one would like to see some numbers. Instead, we read that “among the 24 Hungarian members of the European Parliament, two are Roma.” (I might add that since the book was written there is only one because SZDSZ didn’t get enough votes and since then its Roma representative Viktória Mohácsi has been seeking political asylum in Canada.)
Jeszenszky seems to have problems with numbers in general. In one place he correctly estimates the percentage of Roma in Hungary’s population as 7-8%, but a few lines later we read that “in some countries [in Eastern Europe] their share of the overall population exceeds 5 per cent.” Or how meaningful is this assertion: “In terms of estimated figures for the number of Gypsies resident in 38 European countries, Hungary lies in the fourth place, after Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.” In absolute numbers or as a percentage of the population? According to Romanian statistics, Gypsies constitute 3.4% of the population. Spain apparently has 700,000 Roma, about as many as Hungary, but Spain’s population is close to 50 million as opposed to Hungary’s 10 million.
Or what about this? “Since 2001 the size of the Roma population has increased rapidly. Today every fifth or sixth newborn Hungarian child belongs to the Roma minority.” Where is he getting these numbers since very few Gypsies actually declare themselves as belonging to the Roma minority?
And then comes the notorious sentence that received so much publicity: “”The reason why many Roma are mentally ill is because in Roma culture it is permitted for sisters and brothers or cousins to marry each other or just to have sexual intercourse with each other.” Judging from this sentence, Jeszenszky doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word “mentally ill.” Intermarriage might result in genetic problems or retardation but not in mental illness. Of course, it is possible that Jeszenszky knows the difference in Hungarian but perhaps not in English.
But there are other peculiar assertions. Here is one example: The Roma’s “attachment to established religions, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian, appears to have been a matter of convenience rather than conviction.” The example he gives is of Gypsies who lived in the Balkans under prolonged Turkish rule as opposed to those who lived under Christian rule. One doesn’t have to be an expert to know that this is a ridiculous assertion. Serbs who lived under Turkish rule for a long time became Muslims, something the Christian Serbs haven’t forgotten to this day. Or Syria before the Arab conquest was overwhelmingly Christian, but eventually they converted to Islam. Moreover, the Hungarian Roma population is a great deal more religious than the non-Roma population of the country.
There is a section that talks about the Roma invasion of Western Europe in early modern times, but “because of their alien culture and unwillingness to be engaged in agricultural production they were soon expelled and deported from Western Europe, sometimes brutally. Some tribes managed to hold out in the Mediterranean region but the majority retreated to Central and Eastern Europe.” The suggestion here is that Western Europeans were intolerant while in Eastern Europe, specifically in Hungary, Gypsies found shelter.
Here is a description of the current situation: “Criminality is high among them, consequently a negative attitude to Roma is wide-spread among the population at large.” Again, the suggestion is that discrimination is solely due to the Gypsies’ criminality. “Many Roma live in self-made squatter settlements on the outskirts of towns or villages.” As if the Roma chose to live in isolation at the far end of villages.
Here is an interesting description of the discrimination against Roma children in schools. “A large proportion of their children do not regularly attend school. Discrimination plays some part in this as the birth-rate among Roma has increased while the general population has a zero or negative growth rate, and many elementary schools are inundated by unruly Gypsy children.” Hence discrimination and truancy?
And finally, here is another telling sign of the incredible prejudice that can be found in practically every line. After a long description of the “very serious efforts to improve the lot of [Hungary’s] citizens of Gipsy origin” Jeszenszky continues: “The media, especially the international, gives publicity mainly to the negative tendencies and to the controversies. (Recently hot debates started about a few criminal cases. Some were described as ‘hate crime’ against Roma, others involved family feuds between Gipsy families, but on several occasions Gypsy gangs killed innocent non-Gypsies.)”
Well, we all remember the cases of serial murders of absolutely innocent Roma by a gang of far-right Gypsy haters. If those were not hate crimes, I don’t know what they were.
Honestly, what can we expect from Hungarian higher education when textbooks such as this are being used at one of the best universities in the country? The reputation of Hungarian scholarship is at stake.