Hungarian President Pal Schmitt, a close ally of Premier Viktor Orban, called off today’s public appearances after he was stripped of his doctoral degree for copying most of his thesis 20 years ago.
Schmitt’s public programs, including a meeting with Slovenian Foreign Minister Viktor Erjavec and an award ceremony in Parliament, will be canceled, his press office said in an e-mail today.
Budapest-based Semmelweis University repealed the doctoral title as Schmitt’s thesis “didn’t meet the ethical and professional criteria of scientific work,” Rector Tivadar Tulassay told reporters in Budapest in televised remarks yesterday. The president, who was returning from a conference in South Korea yesterday, was unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman at his office said.
The former Olympic champion fencer and member of the International Olympic Committee has signed every piece of legislation since assuming office in 2010. European Union objections to some of those laws, including new regulations on the central bank and the judiciary, have blocked Hungary’s talks on an International Monetary Fund loan.
A university commission report, excerpts of which were released March 27, confirmed that 180 pages of Schmitt’s 215-page dissertation on sports were “partially identical” to another work, while another 17 pages were “completely identical” to a separate study, with neither receiving credit. It blamed the university for overlooking the similarities with the previous works.
Schmitt said on March 28 that the panel’s report was a “sort of vindication” to him and that he didn’t think “for a minute” he’d resign as his doctorate wasn’t the reason he was elected president, the MTI news service reported.
Hungary’s four parliamentary opposition parties have urged Schmitt to resign. Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, in which Schmitt was previously vice president, considers the matter “closed” after the commission’s report, spokeswoman Gabriella Selmeczi wrote in a March 27 e-mail.
“No one else can decide” but the president whether he should resign, Orban said in an interview on public radio MR1-Kossuth today.
German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg quit last March over allegations he plagiarized passages of his doctoral thesis.
While Schmitt’s thesis included a bibliography, it didn’t cite sources and didn’t include footnotes or endnotes, according to the report, published on the university’s website. The commission didn’t use the word “plagiarism” in the three-page summary of its report.
While the office of the president is largely ceremonial and the bulk of executive power lies with the prime minister, Schmitt’s predecessors regularly returned legislation to Parliament or sought Constitutional Court review. Schmitt said in June, 2010 that he “wouldn’t block the government’s agenda” as president.
Schmitt, who won Olympic gold medals in fencing in 1968 and 1972, was a deputy chairman of Fidesz from 2003 to 2007 and a vice president of the European Parliament from July 2009 to May 2010. He has headed the Hungarian Olympic Committee since 1990 and was vice president of the IOC from 1995 to 1999. He was a deputy state secretary for sports under communism in the 1980s.
Schmitt’s approval rating sank to 30 percent this month from 49 percent when he took office in June 2010, pollster Ipsos said on its website, without giving a margin of error.