A committee charged with investigating charges that current state President Pál Schmitt had plagiarized his 1992 doctoral thesis on Wednesday released a finding that he was not guilty of plagiarism, despite the fact that the thesis was based in large part on material nearly identical to published works by other scholars.
Schmitt was embroiled in the controversy in early January, when journalists revealed that much of Schmitt’s dissertation about the Olympic Games was apparently copied wholesale from the work of a Bulgarian scientist.
Budapest’s Semmelweis University – which absorbed the once-separate Budapest Sports University that awarded Schmitt’s degree – set up a five-member fact-finding committee to probe the allegations, and this morning released a three-page summary of its report, which runs to more than 1,000 pages.
The committee said that from page 34 to 50, the thesis is completely identical to a paper written by German sports sociologist Klaus Heinemann, and another 180 pages are partly identical to a paper written by the Bulgarian scholar, Nikolay Georgiev.
The committee also pointed to the lack of proper citations or bibliography and other significant lapses.
The “split decision” by the committee boils down to a recognition that Schmitt’s thesis was flawed, but that the responsibility for this lies with the former Sports University rather than Schmitt.
“If not an irregularity, it was certainly a formal mistake that the thesis is generally characterized by the insufficiency and lack of referencing which the supervisor at the time and the assessors of the thesis should have pointed out during the preparatory phase and in the pre-assessment,” the report said. The Sports University made a mistake by not revealing these shortcomings and leading the writer to believe that the thesis met the requirements, it added.
Schmitt has said he would respect the committee’s decision but insisted that he did not plagiarize his dissertation. The issue of Schmitt’s alleged plagiarism has been a “taboo” topic within the ranks of the ruling party, although off the record many of the party’s politicians (and one notably on the record) have said if the allegations are true, the president would have to resign.
Opposition united in calls for resignation
In the wake of the committee’s announcement, all four parliamentary opposition parties called on Schmitt to resign, while Fidesz said that based on available knowledge it considered the case closed, and its Christian Democratic junior coalition partner said it hoped the report would end the “political attacks” on the president.
Dóra Dúró of the radical nationalist Jobbik denounced the “ridiculous conclusions” of the report and said that if Fidesz failed to call on Schmitt to resign, it would prove that “keeping a politically loyal figure in position is more important to them than transparency in public affairs.”
Csaba Molnár, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Coalition (DK), which is headed by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurscány, said the committee had tried to defend Schmitt despite evidence that he had “stolen scientific data and obtained his doctoral title illegitimately.” He added that ten DK politicians would cease using their doctoral titles in protest.
Meanwhile, the Green LMP party called a “flash” demonstration for tonight in front of Parliament at 7:00 p.m.
Gov’t said planning changes to presidential succession
Despite earlier reports that the government was confident that Schmitt would escape serious censure by the panel, last week the governing coalition was said to have begun preparing to modify relevant laws to add more detail to the presidential succession process.
Under current law, if a president offers his resignation, parliament must begin debate on the matter within 15 days. A minimum of ten MPs or an official party faction can call upon the president to reconsider, but if the president insists on resigning, parliament has to respect his or her wishes.
According to atv.hu, Fidesz and its Christian Democratic allies would add language for situations in which a president is to be removed by parliament in the event that he or she deliberately broke the law or committed a crime.
Editor’s Note: This report is subject to updating and in part on dispatches from MTI.