Hungarian President Vows to Fight After Losing Doctoral Degree

Hungarian President Pal Schmitt
Hungarian President Pal Schmitt. Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

Hungarian President Pal Schmitt vowed to fight to restore his honor after he was stripped of his doctoral degree for copying most of his thesis 20 years ago and pledged to write a new dissertation.

Budapest-based Semmelweis University yesterday repealed his title, saying the thesis didn’t meet the ethical and professional criteria of scientific work. Facing opposition calls to resign, Schmitt said on state television M1 his conscience was clear regarding his thesis, which was an “honest” and “useful” piece of work.

“There is no link in my view” between the presidency and losing his degree, said Schmitt, 69, an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “I wrote the dissertation as a student twenty years ago, to the best of my ability.”

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.

Hungary’s presidency 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.

Higher Degree

Schmitt will prove he can write a PhD dissertation, a higher degree which has more stringent standards than the kind of doctoral title he received under the academic system prevailing in Hungary in 1992, he said.

A university commission report, excerpts of which were released March 27, confirmed that 180 pages of Schmitt’s 215-page dissertation entitled “The Analysis of the Program of Modern Olympic Games” 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.

Hungary’s four parliamentary opposition parties have urged Schmitt to resign. Orban told public radio MR1 today that “no one else can decide” but the president whether he should resign.

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg quit last March over allegations he plagiarized passages of his doctoral thesis.

No Notes

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.

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.

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