Hungary’s President Pál Schmitt is engulfed in a major scandal resulting in vocal calls for his resignation. As the Hungarian news magazine HVG first reported, Schmitt’s doctoral thesis (“The Analysis of the Program of Modern Era Olympic Games” - Az újkori olimpiai játékok programjának elemzése) appears to be in part a plagiarized translation and in another part a translated paraphrase of research conducted and funded by the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Studies Center.Schmitt is accused of plagiarizing the work of Bulgarian sport researcher Nikolai Georgiev, who died in 2005. Georgiev used to work at the Lausane Olympic Museum’s Olympic Studies Center and is the author of over 40 books on the history of the olympic games. In 1987, Georgiev filed a study, written in French and entitled the “Analyse du programme olympique (des Jeux de l’Olympiade)” with the Olympic Museum’s library. It was a two-volume work, 465 pages in length, several hundred of which were taken up by tables and diagrams. Later Georgiev updated his study to include program information for the 1996 olympic games and the study was published in 1995 under the title “Analyse du programme des Jeux Olympiques 1896-1996.”
Schmitt’s doctoral dissertation plagiarizes the 1987 version of Georgiev’s study. In HVG’s approximation, 180 out of the 215 pages of the work are made up of a Hungarian translation of Georgiev’s work. At times Schmitt summarizes longer sentences or shortens them by omitting details contained in the original.
Only about 35 pages of Schmitt’s dissertation are not found in the Bulgarian sport scholar’s 1987 study as well. Beside occasional comments inserted into Georgiev’s text, these are located at the beginning and the ending of the thesis: Schmitt adds two sections on the role of the television and the economy to Georgiev’s introduction, while at the end he includes information not yet available to Georgiev in 1987 on the program of future olympics.
HVG included a document with specific examples comparing Georgiev’s original French text and Schmitt’s Hungarian-language work, including the table of contents of the two authors’ work. Schmitt’s 210 pages omit sections included in Georgiev’s study but are otherwise arranged into the same chapter outline used in the Bulgarian sport researcher’s study.
In addition to presenting Georgiev’s research as his own, Schmitt also copied a page from a book called Analysis of the Olympic Programme, published in 1985 and co-authored by Khristo Meranzov and Georgiev.
Pál Schmitt submitted his PhD. doctoral thesis to the Faculty of Physical Education (currently part of Semmelweis University) in 1992. Both of the examiners of the dissertation awarded him a “summa cum laude” mark, the highest possible category of evaluation for a doctoral dissertation. One of them, Ferenc Takács even praised the work, writing that “we would like to bring attention in particular to the fact that this topic has not been discussed neither in the domestic nor in the international academic literature with this level of detail.”
The evaluation of Schmitt’s work has been a focus of keen attention over the last few days, since the scandal broke, because the research contained in Schmitt’s work does not appear to meet even the most fundamental requirements expected of scholarly work at the doctoral level. For one thing, Schmitt’s text is full of spelling mistakes. The Hungarian president’s poor spelling of Hungarian words is frequently the subject matter of ridicule among his compatriots (last March, he misspelled the word “head of state” in a dedication left at a restaurant – as the photo in this article demonstrates). In his dissertation, the future Hungarian president repeatedly misspells words as crucial to his scientific field as soccer, water polo, martial arts, and wrestling. Even his table of contents contains misspellings of these words; a sentence that begins on p. 73 does not continue on p. 74; “Sofia” and “Seoul” are not always capitalized.
Secondly, Schmitt’s work fails to meet academic standards for citing the secondary literature used in his research (and appears to have no awareness of the fact that the scholarly contribution of academic research is often measured in terms of its documentation of further research available on the subject matter). The failure on this count is quite radical: Mr. Schmitt’s doctoral dissertation uses neither endnotes nor footnotes.
The second examiner of Schmitt’s academic work, István Kertész did note this shortcoming of the work at the time of his evaluation of the thesis, writing that “on the basis of the secondary literature noted [in the bibliography] it would have been hardly possible to perform such a detailed program analysis.” In his written opinion of the work, Takács, Schmitt’s other examiner also made note of the fact that the precise citation of the primary sources used in the research was missing.
Ferenc Takács’s research areas appear to be closely related to Schmitt’s: according to his home page, around the period when Schmitt received his doctorate, his research focused on the philosophy of the olympic movement. On the other hand, Kertész’ expertise lies in ancient history (Schmitt’s dissertation treated modern era olympic games – not one of its sections is dedicated to the the ancient olympics). But the connection between the student and his professors appears even more curious given that both university professors worked at the time as members of the executive board of an organization under Schmitt’s supervision.
Schmitt’s PhD examiners held positions on the council of the Hungarian Olympic Academy (MOA: Magyar Olimpiai Akadémia). MOA’s mission is to popularize the olympic spirit through the organizing of competitions, exhibitions commemorations and meetings. It is not clear whether the positions on the council are paid and, if so, how well; what is known, however, is that MOA’s existence and funding is directly dependent on the Hungarian Olympic Committee, which, between the years 1990-2010 was under the leadership of its president, Pál Schmitt himself.
MOA was founded in 1985; for the first five years, Schmitt served as its first president. Takács had served alongside with Schmitt on the organization’s council since MOA’s funding in 1985; while Kertész joined MOA’s council in 1992, in the year in which Schmitt’s dissertation was awarded the highest possible academic mark through the two professor’s evaluation.
It appears that Schmitt also made a concerted effort to conceal any tracks that would have led to the discovery of the plagiarism. Though he does list, separately, the two volumes of Georgiev’s 1987 study in his bibliography (this way, the Bulgarian researcher’s study represents two out of the 21 entries contained in the bibliography), he provides the title of the work in Hungarian rather than in the original French. Doing so is usually discouraged in academia, since translated titles complicate locating the work cited by those interested in further research on the topic.
In addition, Schmitt’s bibliography also contains incorrect information about the place of the work’s publication: instead of Lausanne, it states that Georgiev’s work was published in Bulgaria. Schmitt stayed in Lausanne, the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee frequently as president of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, so he probably very well knows that the Georgiev’s study, produced on a type-writer, is filed away at the Lausane Olympic Museum’s library – after all, he himself must have “consulted” it there. Beyond this bibliographic entry, Schmitt never acknowledges the Bulgarian sport scholar in the main text of the thesis.
As the scandal grows stronger, and as the calls for Schmitt’s resignation are becoming louder, Hungary’s president “categorically rejects” suggestions of his plagiarism. None of the explanations thus far provided by his office would suffice to establish, however, that his doctoral dissertation was based on independent research or that it contains new findings.
In a statement released in response to the brewing scandal, the Office of the Hungarian President claims that Pál Schmitt maintained a friendship with Mr. Georgiev, and that they consulted and collaborated on the topic. In an interview given to HVG on Thursday, Georgiev’s daughter, who lived in the same household while her father worked as a researcher in Switzerland thought this “simply impossible” (if the suggestions were true, this would also cast a shadow on Mr. Georgiev’s academic standards, as he does not acknowledge Mr. Schmitt as his research partner either).
As far as meeting scholarly standards by his research (e.g. the concerns raised by the spelling in the dissertation, and the lack of footnotes), the Hungarian presidency’s press release referred the responsibility for ensuring compliance of his thesis to the two university professors who signed off on the dissertation. The statement by the president’s office also points out that both of the work compared in HVG’s article rely on the same sources (such as minutes of the IOC and affiliated organizations). Of course the press release does not specifically mention why, if that is the case, these key documents were also left without proper footnoting in the president’s academic research.
Opposition parties as well as many Hungarian netizens have called for the Pál Schmitt’s resignation. An investigation is urged into both the authenticity of the president’s work and into any potential conflict of interest on the part of the university professors and will likely be conducted – if not by political entities, than by university authorities. Schmitt, who is one of the most loyal supporters of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is often criticized by Hungarians for his refusal to raise constitutional challenges to the Hungarian government’s legislation. He is the first president of Hungary who has never used this important power of the president during his term.
If or when Mr. Schmitt’s doctoral title is withdrawn and he resigns from the highest public office in Hungary, Hungarian sport scholars will face an additional task as he fall-out of his scandal: they will have to remove the Hungarian president’s doctoral dissertation from the recommended reading list currently used at Semmelweis University on “Olympics” and “The Economic Questions of the Olympic Games.”
More on the story: Index.hu reports in conjunction with the scandal that 1992, the year in which Pál Schmitt obtained his PhD, was also the year in which the Hungarian state introduced new regulations which provided a 75% increase of the basic public officer’s salary (special thanks to a commenter for pointing out that this did not amount to a 75% salary increase – public offices get certain multiples of the base salary, depending on the specific position they hold). Mr. Schmitt held diplomatic positions in Spain from 1993-97, and in Switzerland between 1999-2002. Index bases its calculations that Schmitt’s degree earned him as much as 2.5 million Hungarian forints ($10,281 or 8050 euros) on a source from the Hungarian public employees’ union.