2012. április 7., szombat

The president’s PhD

In January 2012, an online portal revealed that some 180 pages, out of 215 in total, in the president’s PhD thesis are word-by-word translations of a Bulgarian researcher, Nikolai Georgiev’s earlier work. Schmitt’s thesis did not contain any references or citations at all, merely a short list of used sources (including Georgiev’s) at the end. Photos were released from both Georgiev’s and Schmitt’s work evidencing page-after-page word-by-word identity.


It was promptly forbidden to photocopy or photograph the only publicly available copy of president’s thesis.

The reason: copyright regulations.

Consequently, journalists were given limited timeframes in which to inspect the thesis, whereby they were allowed to make handwritten notes but were constantly controlled by two employees of the archives so as to prevent any photographing.


Conservative media put the ‘attack’ on the president in the larger context of a grand assault against Hungary on behalf of the ‘global financial sharks’ and political forces that wished to crush Hungary’s ‘freedom fight’.

The president’s office and state media initially pointed on the excellent final grades which the thesis received back in 1992. The line of argument was: ‘if such eminent professors rated the thesis summa cum laude, then how dare some journalists question the quality of it’. Also, they implied that Schmitt complied with the rules by mentioning the Bulgarian researcher as one of his sources at the end of his book.

Then, the president’s office declared that in fact he had worked together for many years with Georgiev, implying that the 180 identical pages are the product of joint research. However, independent media found the daughter of Georgiev (who passed away in 2004). She stated she had never heard of Schmitt and ruled out her father’s collaboration with him.

Next, the president explained in an interview on state radio that the 180 pages were actually ‘the factual basis’ or ‘core material’ of his thesis, which ‘obviously’ contained nothing new; it is rather the conclusions part (i.e. the other 35 pages) which constitute the real value of his thesis.

Independent media then found out that 17 pages of this concluding part are a word-by-word translations from another researcher’s, Klaus Heinemann’s work. Mr. Heinemann denied any relation to, let alone collaboration with Pal Schmitt.


The university which issued the PhD diploma first stated that it had no reason to doubt the validity of its judgement back in 1992. Then it decided to set up a fact-finding commission to investigate the president’s thesis.

This proved difficult however, because the university was unable to find any participants for the commission. All asked researchers declined.

Finally, the commission was formed with anonymous members.

It reached its conclusions in two months. The summary of their investigations was this:

- Pal Schmitt's thesis meets the formal requirements which were in effect at the time of its making
- this despite thesis containing an ‘unusually high proportion of text identity with previously published texts'
- Which, however, is not Pal Schmitt’s fault, but rather his opponents’ and consultant’s fault who failed to spot the identity
- No wrongdoing by Pal Schmitt given that his attention had not been raised by the university on the importance of correct referencing, therefore Pal Schmitt ‘could be rightfully in the belief that his conduct is flawless’


The president and the ruling Fidesz party reacted positively to the commision’s findings and declared the whole issue closed for good.

Public pressure continued to mount however, with some observers pointing to the report’s conclusion that, after all, more than 90% of the thesis had been officially found identical with other works.

So a dispute began between the university and the ministry of education on who would be entitled to decide on stripping the president of his doctor title, with both declaring themselves ‘not authorized’.

Finally on March 29, professor Tivadar Tulassay, rector of the university announced that the president’s title shall be revoked.


The president reacted with an interview on state TV, stating inter alia, that:

- he continues to see his thesis as ‘honest, manly work’
- he sees it as unfair that the commission made its decision without asking him. (Later it transpired that they did consult him)
- at the time he wrote it, it was common that sources were only listed at the end (Later is became known that Schmitt had been the only one among his peers in 1992 whose work did not contain proper referencing)
- he’s not going to sue for his title

Prime minister Orban, when asked to comment, said that by virtue of the constitution, the president is untouchable, therefore the question in itself (i.e. whether Schmitt should resign) is inappropriate. Orban added that what’s most important for him in all cases is the country’s interest; and that is 'to have at all times a leader who is untouchable’.

On April 1 came another interview with Pal Schmitt, who confirmed his unwillingness to resign. He blamed his political opponents for undermining the respect for the office of the president and for giving Hungary a bad name abroad. He added:

practically, science has corrected itself now. If science made a mistake twenty years ago by not pointing my attention to certain deficiencies, then the university’s senate has corrected this now. I would say that, between them, the match stands 1-1, the only pity is that it is me who became the casualty of this.

He stated that his title could not have been revoked rightfully without consulting the Hungarian Accreditation Committee. Also, he reaffirmed that he will not sue for his title.

The Hungarian Accreditation Committee reacted afterwards saying that the University did have the right to revoke Schmitt’s title.


On the same day, professor Tivadar Tulassay, rector of the university, announced his resignation. He cited a perceived grave loss of confidence in him from the ministry of education’s behalf, and stressed he felt this step was necessary to prevent any harm to his university.


On April 2, Pal Schmitt announced his resignation before parliament so as to avoid a split of the country's population bacause of his case. (At the time, opinion polls showed over 80% wishing he resigns.) Once more Pal Schmitt denied any wrongdoing and blamed 'forces' for attacking Hungary and its president. He reiterated the accusations are false and that, if anyone, the university was to blame for failing to point him to correct referencing. He also announced he will sue to get his title back.

In reaction, Janos Lazar, the leader of Fidesz' parlimentary group expressed a need for the Hungarian scientific community to do some serious soul-searching for having missed to check all scientific titles that were attained before the systemic change to democracy in 1989-1990. Pal Schmitt got his doctor title in 1992.

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