An awfully lot has changed in Hungary in the past week, ever since a SOTE committee has published its findings about Pál Schmitt’s doctoral dissertation. In fact this article has originally meant to have a somewhat different form. Little did I know that things will take such a chaotic turn.
But what happened in the first place? Let’s see: last Tuesday came the news that SOTE’s fact-finding committee, established solely for the investigation of the plagiarism accusations that have surfaced regarding Hungarian President Pál Schmitt’s doctoral dissertation, has finished its report. And the findings of the report were obvious to everybody who speaks English, French and Hungarian, and also read both of HVG’s articles which have started the whole affair. After that things went just as expected: Schmitt has announced several times that he refuses to resign and Fidesz-controlled media went on to misinterpret the committee’s findings. In fact the whole “loyalist” right-wing media asserted that the committee has blamed the “mistake” on the university, citing their failure to recognize plagiarism prior to the dissertation’s defense. In fact they suggested that the committee’s conclusion is that Schmitt should NOT be stripped of his doctorate: Magyar Nemzet was the first to come to this conclusion followed by the evening news of MTV.
Despite all the prior pressure for doing the contrary, on Thursday evening Schmitt has been stripped of his doctorate. On Friday everybody was expecting Schmitt’s resignation, supported by the fact that he was to be featured in a programming right after the evening news on MTV. The programming however turned out to be an interview where Schmitt has announced that he’ll keep on fighting to earn a PhD and that he won’t resign. He also promised to refrain from legal actions, saying “instead of suing I’ll keep arguing”.
This has been followed by Monday’s U-turn, when Schmitt has announced his resignation to the Hungarian Parliament along with considerations for legal action against the “perpetrators of the hate campaign aimed against him”.
So much for the facts. Unfortunately taking a stance that would’ve been viewed favorable by the Hungarian right is not an option in this case. While I fully agree with the fact that the President’s (unprecedented) resignation was a sad moment of Hungarian history, it was the necessary outcome. Have Orbán’s stance prevailed, it would’ve threatened to sweep the whole right in a grave disagreement which could’ve led to a fracture within Fidesz itself. Cynically enough this has also shown that the Hungarian (free!) press is still a force to reckon with and it can cause or enforce the resignation of even a figure heavily backed by Orbán.
Another aspect of the whole affair is the academic one. In a normal democracy politics doesn’t interfere with the country’s scientific community, yet that’s exactly what happened in this case. And unfortunately the repercussions are the most severe exactly in this sector: Tivadar Tulassay, SOTE’s president has resigned after feeling a lack of confidence in his work, and Klaus Heinemann, one of the authors whose work has been plagiarized by Schmitt, has condemned him and questioned his ability to represent Hungary internationally in an appropriate way. This has hurt Hungary’s scientific reputation abroad to an extent which is unclear for now, but later on it might turn out to be bigger than expected. Long after Fidesz is gone.