Tag Archives: plagiarism

One of the many impostors in the service of the Orbán government

A couple of days ago The Budapest Beacon published an incredible story about a woman in her sixties who accused NGOs who are defending the rights of refugees of “subversive activities.” She charged that they have compelled interpreters to lie on behalf of the asylum-seekers. As a result, several interpreters have been dismissed. The story took a really bizarre turn when a few days ago we learned that it was the accuser herself who had falsified a Syrian refugee’s plea, from innocent to guilty.

This is not the first time that Magda Nasrin Katona has run into trouble with the law. In 2012 she received an eight-month suspended sentence for perjury. She attacked a woman walking her dog with a cane, after which she accused the victim of attacking her. Two years earlier, when she represented her foundation as an observer of the November 2010 presidential election in Afghanistan, she got into quite a bit of trouble. She was caught on camera demanding money in return for votes. A journalist from The Washington Post ran the story, including the video, which naturally got to Hungary in no time.

Magda Nasrin Katona in Afghanistan in 2010

I decided to look into Magda Nasrin Katona’s career in Hungary. My aim was to learn how questionable characters like Katona manage to make careers for themselves in Hungary.

First of all, I would like to emphasize that it wasn’t only the Orbán government and Fidesz that considered Katona an asset. Over the years she managed to get grants here and there from the foreign ministry and to pass herself off to serious scholars as someone whose experience made her a true expert. The truth is that most of the Hungarians Katona came into contact with were too provincial to realize that she was for all intents and purposes a fraud. And those who did discover that Katona was not what she claimed to be remained quiet instead of unmasking her. I’m afraid it sounds like a typical Hungarian story to me.

We don’t know much about her life and activities before the early 1990s. I assume that she has a degree in Arabic studies, most likely from ELTE. She signed one of her articles Dr. Magda Nasrin Katona, but since later she had problems writing a real Ph.D. dissertation, her doctorate was the kind that is called the “kisdoktori” in Hungary, a title that no longer exists. We know that she was married to Mohammad Yar, most likely an Afghan. Given her age (she was born in 1953), they might have met in Hungary, where Yar might have been a student. People who know her told inquiring reporters that she had lived for many years in Afghanistan and that she actually owns property there. According to at least one source, the marriage ended some time ago and Yar moved to the United States.

Katona’s published works that are available online appeared in three or four publications. One was a quarterly published by the Pro Minoritate Foundation, which was close to Fidesz. The periodical is still in existence, although the foundation doesn’t seem to be active anymore. From the table of contents it seems to be a publication that may receive subsidies from Fidesz. Another periodical that carried several of her articles was Hadtudomány (Military Science), which is the publication of the Magyar Hadtudományi Társaság (Hungarian Association of Military Science).

By 2002 some people started noticing that Katona’s knowledge of Afghanistan left something to be desired. In Külügyi Szemle, the publication of the Külügyi Intézet under the aegis of the foreign ministry, a fairly lengthy article tore her article on Afghanistan apart.

In 2003 she became a frequent contributor to Magyar Nemzet, which was then a publication that toed the Fidesz line, but at the same time she also kept in touch with the socialist-liberal governments. Her foundation, which may not actually have existed, received small grants from the foreign ministry in three consecutive years between 2004 and 2006, during the tenure of Ferenc Somogyi and Kinga Göncz.

What was the opinion of her expertise at the time? In 2010, after The Washington Post scandal broke, Index asked around to ascertain what “national security experts” thought of Magda Nasrin Katona. Somewhat surprisingly, university professors, authors of books, and experts on national security praised her to the sky. Péter Tálasi, whom I consider one of the smarter people in the field, thought that “Magda Katona is the best informed analyst of the domestic affairs of Afghanistan. Few people know the country as well as she does. Her knowledge of the language plays an important role here.” Ferenc Gazdag, a historian and national security expert, also spoke highly of her. “She has a wide knowledge of the country,” he said. Peter Wagner, a member of the Magyar Külügyi Intézet in whose publication her article was panned, made it clear that she doesn’t work for the ministry but still she is a real expert on Afghanistan. But Index talked to some other people, who didn’t want to disclose their names, who told the paper that Katona’s Ph.D. dissertation had been rejected several times because “very serious mistakes, contradictory statements, and unverifiable sources” were found throughout. Moreover, a good portion of the dissertation was merely a Hungarian translation of English-language sources. Soon after Index dropped the word about the alleged plagiarism, she gave up the idea of obtaining a Ph.D.

All through these years Katona worked for the Bevándorlási Hivatal (Immigration Office) as a translator and interpreter. Ferenc Kőszeg, founder of the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, wrote an article in Népszabadság in which he complained that “in the Nyírbátor refugee camp where the Afghan communist national security officers and the mujahedeen fighters were placed together, Magda Nasrin Katona showed partiality toward the former and did a lot to see that these Afghan supporters of Soviet aggression—political officers, party secretaries, government officials—would receive asylum in Hungary.”

Of course, people like Katona can be found everywhere, but it would help if more businesses and institutions required confidential recommendations when hiring. In my experience, recommendations for Hungarians go straight to the applicant instead of to the person who is supposed to decide on the applicant’s fate. Then there is the very bad habit of not releasing information that would raise doubts about the person’s abilities. Why were professors quiet when it was discovered that Katona’s Ph.D. dissertation was largely plagiarized? One could ask dozens of questions, but the final result is that there are just too many cases in which totally unqualified people parade as experts to the detriment of scholarship.

November 18, 2017

Intellectual fraud in Hungary

Today I will cover two topics. First, the industry that has developed to write essays and research papers, without which a Hungarian student cannot receive his diploma. Using other people’s work and passing it off as your own is plagiarism. In legal terms, it is a fraud, which is a punishable act. Second, a historical fraud: the history of the pilgrimage of Csíksomlyó/Şumuleu Ciuc.

Researchers for hire

The other day I found a fascinating article in Magyar Nemzet about a service for those who, after four years of higher education, are still unable to write a senior essay, as it is known here. In Hungary it is called “szakdolgozat.” In both cases the student is supposed to demonstrate that he/she is capable of independent and original research. It seems that many Hungarian students are either too lazy or are actually incapable of producing a research paper of about 40-50 pages. These are the people who turn to professional “manufacturers” of senior papers.

After reading the article, I managed to locate an internet site that offers a wide range of help for university students. Students can purchase not only “outlines” of topics but also complete essays to fulfill part of their course requirements. As the site explains, “during the course of college or university studies a student may have to write dozens of essays. In case you don’t have time or have difficulties with some of them, get in touch with us and we will help.” The enterprising businessmen of szakdolgozatiras.hu described the final research paper as “the greatest obstacle to receiving one’s diploma.” They claim to have supplied more than 1,600 senior papers over a ten-year period, and the testimonials coming from satisfied customers are super.

In addition to the professional senior paper factories there are those Magyar Nemzet calls the lone wolves. One freelancer admitted that he has been writing papers for others for the last eight years and up to now has “helped out about 250 people.” Some of these freelancers come cheap. The journalists found one fellow who charges only 56,000 forints (about $200) for the job, but such a low price is rare. According to Magyar Nemzet, a senior paper (B.A. or B.S.) costs 100,000-120,000 forints and a master’s thesis 112,000-140,000. If the work has to be in English, it will cost at least 200,000 forints.

After doing a little research on the subject and looking at some of the papers, I came to the conclusion that a large percentage of customers are students who attend college at night. There is a good likelihood that they really are at a loss when it comes to producing original work. And their professors don’t seem ready to guide them. So, they turn to “professionals.” Those who need help getting started but don’t want to buy a completed essay can get paper topics, outlines, and bibliographies. Such a service costs only 15,000-20,000 forints.

I may add that there is nothing new under the sun. My father told me that this was common practice at the Budapest University of Technology between the two world wars, especially when it came to writing a “doctoral dissertation.”

A historical falsification

It was all over the papers last weekend that President János Áder and his wife were going to take part in the gathering that has become a celebration of national unity across borders. Thousands of “pilgrims” gather every year in Csíksomlyó, equipped with Szekler and Hungarian flags. The pilgrimage is religious in origin, but by now religion takes a back seat to nationalism.

The story that allegedly justifies the pilgrimage is that in 1567, during Pentecost, János Zsigmond, prince of Transylvania, tried to convert the Catholic Szeklers to his own faith, Unitarianism. While the men of Csíksomlyó fought the prince’s troops, the women prayed in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, who helped them against the evil prince and his troops. The trouble with the story is that it is not true.

The statue the women of Csíksomlyó allegedly prayed to in 1567

The statue of the Virgin Mary the women of Csíksomlyó allegedly prayed to in 1567

Csíksomlyó was granted the right to hold a pilgrimage every July 2, the Day of Visitation, when the pregnant Virgin Mary visited the also pregnant St. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. It is not clear when the date of the pilgrimage was moved, most likely during the eighteenth century when a Hungarian nobleman in Habsburg service in Vienna came up with the story of János Zsigmond’s attempt to forcibly convert the Catholic Szeklers to Unitarianism. Prior to 1780, when the story was first published, no one had ever heard of the great battle between the Catholic Szeklers and János Zsigmond’s troops. It is true, however, that Unitarianism was spreading rapidly in the Szekler areas of Transylvania at that time as a result of the preaching of Ferenc Dávid, a Hungarian Reformed bishop who had turned Unitarian.

Janos Zsigmond

János Zsigmond Zápolya (1540-1571)

First, a few words about János Zsigmond Zápolya (1540-1571), son of János Zápolya, who after the battle of Mohács in 1526 was elected king of Hungary by the majority of the Hungarian nobles. János Zsigmond’s mother was Izabella, daughter of the Polish king Sigismund I.

János Zsigmond was both handsome and extremely well educated. He spoke eight languages fluently and was a great lover and supporter of music and the arts. He himself played the flute and the organ. He was known as a man of religious tolerance whose greatest achievement was the discontinuation of state religion and the declaration of freedom for all religious denominations in the territory of Transylvania. János Zsigmond made this declaration in 1568, a year after he had allegedly waged war against the Catholics at Csíksomlyó. At the Diet at Torda/Turda he issued the Edict of Torda or the Patent of Toleration:

His majesty, our Lord, in what manner he–together with his realm–legislated in the matter of religion at the previous Diets, in the same matter now, in this Diet, reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching. For faith is the gift of God and this comes from hearing, which hearings is by the word of God.

Unitarians of Transylvania—and there are 75,000 of them—have repeatedly asked György Jakubinyi, archbishop of Gyulafehérvár/Alba Iulia, to debunk the story as sheer fiction. The archbishop expressed his regret that the occasion is used to foment religious discord, but there has been no correction of the erroneous historical facts. In fact, according to those who attended the pilgrimage, the speakers told the gathering crowds the same untrue story about the intolerant Unitarian king of Hungary and later Prince of Transylvania.

Hungarians should be proud that Unitarianism as a distinct religion was born in Hungary and that the first Patent of Toleration was declared there, even as elsewhere in Europe religious wars were being fought. By the way, a good short biography of János Zsigmond is available in English online. He is a historical figure who shouldn’t be forgotten–or besmirched.

May 23, 2016

A plagiarist educator? Yes, she will be the next principal of a Budapest high school

The following scandal might be a tempest in a teapot, but it typifies who gets ahead in today’s Hungary.

At the end of this school year the tenure of the current principal of the Antal Budai Nagy Gymnasium in Budafok / District XXII is coming to an end. According to the law, Mrs. Kiss, née Beáta Prim could be reappointed without an open application procedure if she is supported by the faculty, the students, and the parents. There is certainly no problem here. Kiss is liked by her colleagues: 42 of the 44 teachers gave her their support. So did the students and the parents. Yet on December 8, in a closed session, the city council at the suggestion of Deputy Mayor Zoltán Németh voted to have an open competition for Kiss’s job.

In addition to Mrs. Kiss’s application, there was an application from Mrs. Manolovits, née Orsolya Erdőközi, who turned out to be friends with both Deputy Mayor Németh and Mrs. Judit Bertalan Czunyi, undersecretary in charge of public education in the ministry of human resources. Czunyi is Rózsa Hoffmann’s replacement and unfortunately doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement. From the story that emerges, it looks as if Czunyi and Németh came to the aid of Manolovits, who a year earlier had failed to get a job as principal of a high school in Érd. The opportune moment was the end of Kiss’s term, which everybody believed would be automatically extended. Not so. An open application process began.

There is no question, Mrs. Czunyi, née Judit Bertalan is a faithful Fidesz loyalist

There is no question, Mrs. Czunyi, née Judit Bertalan, is a faithful Fidesz loyalist

The city council deemed both applicants’ qualifications and vision for the school’s future excellent, and therefore the final decision lay with the ministry. Faculty members and parents of the students by this point had no doubt that Malonovits, Czunyi’s friend from their university days, would be the winner. Petitions were sent to the ministry, demonstrations were organized, long debates were held during which a lot was learned about Malonovits. She was no stranger to the school. A couple of years previously she had taught Hungarian literature there. Apparently, she was not exactly an ideal colleague. Teamwork was not her forte. At one point she was appointed to lead the school’s literary society where she was supposed to work in tandem with the other Hungarian teachers, something she obviously was incapable of doing. Tensions rose and eventually she was removed from the position. At this point, giving no notice, she quit her job, leaving her graduating class high and dry just before their matriculation examinations.

Of course, what is happening in the Antal Budai Nagy Gymnasium is not unique. Ever since the nationalization of the schools the same routine has been followed. The tenure of a principal is up, but regardless of whether the person is doing an excellent job and could be automatically reappointed, he/she is removed and replaced by someone who has, as Népszabadság put it, “political tail-wind.” In fact, the appointment became infused with party politics when one of the Fidesz members of the council, head of the education committee, claimed that “one group of parents hand in hand with opposition parties stir up tension.”

It was becoming obvious that the parents would not be able to prevent Malonovits’s appointment, but they weren’t discouraged. They, most likely with the help of faculty members, became suspicious that Malonovits’s application might not be entirely her own creation. Members of the anti-Malonovits team turned to the Internet and, with the help of a plagiarism checker, found what they were looking for. Two years ago a Mrs. István Győri applied for the job of elementary school principal in Tiszaalpár, described as a larger village with a population of 5,000. That 2013 proposal was since placed online and hence was easily accessible. It looks as if Undersecretary Czunyi’s friend, who needed some help with her application, found it in Mrs. Győri’s prose.

Here are a couple of passages. You can decide for yourselves whether the new principal of a Budapest high school is a plagiarist.

Malonovits: I’m convinced that in today’s economic and social situation a leader must follow the managerial direction. Supporting the given institution and its environment, safeguarding its existence must be one’s primary function. I wish to emphasize professional innovation, the development of the given possibilities, outreach programs, and public relations. I especially consider it important to make our successes be known and to defend the institution’s interests.

Győri: I’m convinced that in today’s economic and social situation a leader must follow the managerial direction. I wish to emphasize professional innovation, the development of the given possibilities, outreach programs, and public relations. I especially consider it important to make our successes be known and to defend the institution’s interests.

There are several longish passages which Malonovits copied out from Győri’s application. In Népszabadság one can read them all, but here I think these short passages will suffice.

What was Mrs. Czunyi’s reaction? The ministry has neither the time nor the expertise to look into the case, she announced. In any case, it is too late. Mrs. Malonovits has been appointed. József Hanesz, the new director of the Klebelsberg Center (KLIK), the giant employer of all Hungarian teachers, took an interesting position on the case. On the one hand, he admitted that the texts were practically identical, but since Malonovits claims the text to be her own, it is not plagiarism. With such an acute mind it’s unlikely that he will be any better at running the show at KLIK than his failed predecessor.

What did Malonovits have to say about the accusation of plagiarism after the story broke? Nothing. On July 23, she released a statement in which she announced that her application was written in good faith and she is serious about working together with everybody. She is hoping that there will a mutual understanding of each other’s point of view. Otherwise, she wished everybody a nice summer vacation.

The parents, as of yesterday, still insist on pursuing the case which in their opinion endangers the recent academic achievements of the school under the leadership of Mrs. Kiss.