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Hungarian Government Names New President, While Disgraced Ex-President Schmitt Goes to … Heaven
János Áder, a founding member of the Fidesz party and a staunch loyalist of Viktor Orbán will replace disgraced former president Pál Schmitt in Hungary’s highest political office.The position is for the most part only symbolic: Hungary’s president serves as the ceremonial head of state, though he or she is also responsible for ensuring that there is no conflict between the parliament’s legislative output and the country’s constitution.
The fact that Áder is trained in law could, in theory, aid him in performing the powers of the position. Ex-president Schmitt, who did not have formal training in the legal field, pledged not to serve as a “break” on the government’s law-making activities at the time of his nomination and signed even the most controversial bills. Given his precedent, Áder faces the task of restoring the prestige of the position as well as popular expectations to return the presidential office to an impartial and neutral power based in the rule of law. How he will be able to fulfill these demands in view of the fact that, as a career politician of the governing party, his personal fortunes have always been closely aligned with the political success of Fidesz still remains to be seen.
Given the president’s prerogative to stymie legislation, the appointment amounts to a major show of confidence in Áder’s loyalty by prime minister Viktor Orbán – which is not exactly easy to understand in view of their past relationship. Áder has served as a party functionary alongside Orbán since the founding of Fidesz, but their close working relationship was greatly disturbed by a 2007 incident.
The circumstances of the affair are murky. The article which led to the scandal was published under a pseudonym in Magyar Nemzet, a daily owned by business interests close to Fidesz. Not only are we unsure about who wrote the piece and to what extent its accusations were true, there are uncertainties even about why exactly it was presented to the wider public at all. To be sure, the case later led Áder’s to file a libel case with the courts, which resulted in a publisher’s correction stating that the accusations were “false.”
Nevertheless, as the story goes, János Áder may have been recruited to lead a new right-wing party prestigious enough to syphon away votes from Fidesz. The conspiracy was presented to the public as a concerted challenge to Viktor Orbán’s leadership of the Hungarian right: the secret plans were supposedly coordinated by the “great bourgeoisie,” to use the phrase employed in the article, and involved the monied interests gathered around Mária Schmidt.
Schmidt is best known as a historian and director of the House of Terror, a Budapest museum dedicated to maintaining the memory of Hungary’s totalitarian regimes (for an interesting review of the museum’s exhibitions and its political service to the ruling government, see this link). But Schmidt is also one of the most powerful financiers of Orbán’s party – given her generous use of her family wealth, she used to be considered indispensable to Fidesz. At the time of the publication of the accusatory article, she was Orbán’s advisor; notwithstanding her involvement in the controversy in the wake of the article, she remains a Fidesz supporter to this day.
Whether the story of the article was part of a purge within the party, a “stress test” examining Áder’s (or Schmidt’s) loyalty, or perhaps something entirely different is nearly impossible to tell. At the time, other high-ranking politicians of Fidesz were ruthlessly attacked in pseudonymous articles as well (Zoltán Pokorni in particular). What we do know for a fact, however, is that Áder’s relationship with Orbán was widely rumored to have become chilly around this time. Áder chose what many have come to call a self-imposed political exile to the European parliament where, since 2009, he has been busying himself with environmentalist causes.
Yet Áder had been given assignments by Orbán to execute some of the most delicate tasks of the Hungarian political regime change under way since 2010. Most famous among these is the highly anti-democratic reform of Hungary’s electoral system which was authored, master-minded and rolled out to the public – domestically as well as in the European Parliament – by Áder himself (there isn’t much space here to go into the several reasons why this key legislation is highly anti-democratic: because it is even more majoritarian than the previous system, because it favors political parties already in parliament and sets disproportionately high standards for the entry of new political forces, and, most importantly, because of the government’s partisan redistricting of electoral districts – see this link for a more detailed analysis).
Áder’s name was also in circulation as a potential candidate to a position currently held by Tünde Handó, as head of the judiciary for the next 9 years, especially because it was Áder who authored the law that created the position. This is the same legislation that is currently under an EU infringement procedure due to its compromising of the independence of the judicial branch and the concerns it raises about the right to fair trial in the wake of the reforms (plenty of more details may be found on the topic in an easy-to-digest form in this article). Áder was also a contender for the presidential post in 2010. László Kövér, another founding member of Fidesz championed him, but in his final decision on the matter, Orbán seemed to have favored Schmitt’s eagerness to rubber-stamp legislation over Áder’s party loyalty.
Áder is running practically unopposed: the opposition has not been able to name a candidate who could (or would) mobilize discontents of the government. As such, since it is impossible to make a positive argument in favor of a person better fitted to serve in the president’s office, much of the current opposition to Áder is reduced to such enervated talking points as ”he is too loyal to his party” or “as a party politician, he is unfit to represent the country’s unity.”
It is an interesting turn of the tables compared to another presidential election from 2005. Though the story is lengthy and extraordinarily complicated, it is a testimony to Áder’s political prowess that, with his party was opposition, he nevertheless was able to make a ”president-making” strategic play in the Hungarian parliament to get the opposition’s nominee elected to the presidential office.
Seven years ago, the Hungarian Socialist Party’s Katalin Szili was the nominee of the governing party, but the socialists’ liberal allies were reluctant to vote for her. The liberals, who only had 20 representatives, announced that they would not use their ballots unless the socialist party was willing to compromise and nominate a person more acceptable. The socialist caucus had 178 votes; as such, they were only five MPs short of electing Szili by the parliament’s majority. Prior to that, however, election rules called for two rounds of voting, which could have been won only if Szili had the support of two-thirds of the members of the parliament.
Therefore, during the first day of the vote by anonymous ballots, no one was expected to win. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Szili got four out of the five votes she was looking for.
The remaining round of the votes were tabled for the following day, as attention turned to the mystery of who cast three of the four additional votes in favor of Szili (it was known that the fourth vote belonged to a member of the liberal party). These could not have come from a Fidesz member of the parliament, that was certain: on the first day of the vote Áder, who served as the leader the Fidesz parliamentary caucus at the time, instructed his fellow party representatives not to use their ballots. Actually, not only did he instruct the 164 members of the Fidesz caucus to abstain from the vote, for proper emphasis he also called for a caucus meeting while the vote was under way where he could literally keep them under his watch.
Áder also made a surprise revelation during the caucus meeting: he said he was made aware of the fact that the socialists made offers to pay “tens of millions” of Hungarian forints to any potential defector willing to cast a vote for Szili. This was almost certainly an unsubstantiated rumor, as it later turned out, but in the wake of their announcement only a select few could resist dedicating 100% of their attention span to the chase after the “moles.” During the aftermath of the first round of voting he made no scrupples about accusing a smaller opposition party allied with Fidesz of harboring the moles only added to the media circus.
According to later reconstructions of the story Áder knew, and perhaps even personally instructed the three members of parliament their vote for Szili (they were in the smaller opposition party which altogether had 24 votes to cast). As far as Áder’s own version of the events is concerned, he did not know the identity of these MPs, but holding his fellow MPs away from the vote allowed him to find out how many of them there were and to apply pressure on them to return to party discipline.
The plan worked: most everybody spent the less than 18 hours separating the first and the final round of voting on a wild goose chase after the three Szili-voting turncoats. By the time the final vote was held on the second day of the process – at this time voting alongside strict party discipline was crucial - Áder’s game of camouflage reached sensational new heights. Members of parliament had their pictures taken while holding up their ballots. To be safe from further accusation, not only the opposition MPs, but even the socialists made sure that at least one of their peers saw their filled-in ballot. (There was also a minor controversy about whether showing the ballots to the press, as some Fidesz MPs did was “constitutional,” a challenge from the frustrated socialists which only managed to further distract them from the essence of Áder’s plan).
The second vote, held in the morning of the second day of voting broke down according to party lines: it turned into a 185:178 victory for László Sólyom, the candidate favored not only by the political opposition but by respectable organizations in the civic sphere as well. While Szili was a career politician, Sólyom’s credentials included expertise in constitutional law and his service as a former member of the Constitutional Court. He was a popular candidate: by 553,000 votes, he won an unofficial poll to be considered as the “candidate of the people.” Of course a third round had to be held, since neither candidates were able to get two-third of the votes.
Bu this time, just hours before the vote in which a simple majority of the votes could have elected a president, the Socialists should have recognized that their only chance of winning this vote was to get the vote of the liberals – if it were possible to find a compromise candidate at such a late stage of the vote at all.
Though the affair is full of many other entertaining details, what is really important is its final outcome: Sólyom won the third round of balloting by a 185-182 vote. Just as the leader of the Fidesz caucus predicted: the day before the election got under way, Áder told a reporter that the opposition candidate would win by a three vote margin.
Understandably, therefore, not the new president of Hungary but János Áder received the greatest applause once the results of the election were finally announced. Áder, a proud descendant of a small town in north-west Hungary called Csorna had already been known as the “Charles Bronson from Csorna,” given the striking physical likeness. On the day on which he got Sólyom elected, however, he earned the nickname in a virtual battle (though really, in the end, Fidesz stood very little to profit from putting an independent candidate in the presidential office).
As the attention now shifts to the official nomination, election, and inauguration of Hungary’s new president, there is finally hope that the truly embarrassing chapter of Hungarian politics known as Schmitt’s disgraceful fall can also reach its overdue ending.
Much has emerged, in fact, since Schmitt’s quitting that needs to be pushed into the far background of public awareness. Belligerence and indignation are still being voiced among certain segments of Fidesz supporters over the affair. Some dismiss the significance of the president’s fake PhD, some go as far as presenting it as the ex-president’s “manly” gumption and resourcefulness. By all means the most striking of what has come out of the woodworks in the last two week in defense of Schmitt are the religiously grounded insinuations that exhort Schmitt for his brave sacrifice and act of martyrdom.
The most clearly-stated example of a parallel drawn between Schmitt and Jesus was worked out in detail by Antal Kiss, the ex-president’s national politics advisor. Exploiting the Easter narrative of Christ’s crucifixion, Kiss tried to seize upon the pious mood of the country/
Do we remember the Pharisees of the gospels, who are whispering and bargaining in the background cowardly, whose verdict was crowned by a deal stroke between a high priest and a politician?
asked the president’s loyal employee in his opinion piece (original in Hungarian)/
And, really, let me be allowed on the occasion of Easter a parallel: the procedure, the crowd that is hungry for blood and sensation, the psychosis, the silent multitude attending the execution, Judas, the cowards and the speechless, as well as the two who remain at the bottom of the cross… this script is two thousand years old.”
I am fairly certain, given the rest of the text that the two who remain at the bottom of the cross are the author of the text and the president’s wife. But if you are stuck at wondering about just who the Pharisees may be who betray and crucify Schmitt in such ignominious ways – this is a characterization of everyone who thought that Schmitt’s plagiarized thesis compromised his ability to serve as Hungary’s president.
The same characterization is given of Schmitt’s critics in the invectives offered by Hungarian Catholic priest Zoltán Oszkie (link in Hungarian), who also puts added stress on the anti-Semitic overtones implicit in Kiss’ Easter narrative. As Oszkie points out in his analysis of the “connections behind the processes” making up the Schmitt affair, “foreign-hearted traitors who unscrupulously continue – as part of a violent minority – their campaign of hate-mongering” are to be blamed for the ex-president’s downfall (foreign-hearted is a code word in contemporary anti-Semitic parlor for “Jews”).
The political and the civil opposition of the government are both to be counted among such foreign-hearted elements – who, Oszkie adds, are financed by “well-known circles” from abroad - as well as “a politically motivated anarchist group” which “directs the behavior and the decisions of the university doctors’ senate at SOTE and its rector.”
The known extent of plagiarism in Pál Schmitt’s dissertation. Graph courtesy of the Pál Schmitt Scientific Misconduct Controversy page of Wikipedia.
Of course the person who is being described in such hostility-laden religious tones as an outstanding asset to Hungary, Pál Schmitt:
a. copied as many as 213 out of 215 pages of his doctoral dissertation.
b. lied and obfuscated in order to dismiss the charges against him.
c. prior to the discovery of his plagiarism, masked the sources from which he copied by falsifying the bibliographic information of his sources.
d. subsequent to the discovery of his plagiarism, blamed his advisors (who occupied positions with the Hungarian National Olympic Committee as his subordinates) and claimed to be ignorant of the fact that he was supposed to pursue independent research in his doctoral thesis.
How Christian and morally upright of him indeed. And, as far as turning the other cheek is concerned Schmitt, who earlier promised to show “restraint” not to sue the university that had stripped him of his doctoral title, has since announced that he will take the university to court over the procedural aspects of the university senate’s decision.
To be sure, even the Batthyányi Circle of Professors – an alliance of Hungarian intellectuals who wish to use their scientific expertise in the service of the current right-wing government – expressed support for the decision undertaken by Semmelweis University. According to one of their representatives, neurobiologist József Hámori, judging on the basis of the television interview Schmitt gave to Hungarian state television in his defense, the ex-president does not seem to be aware of the rules applying to quotations, of the role of various faculty on the examination committee, or of ”what this affair is really about” (source in Hungarian).
As far as the rules of using quotation marks around texts quoted by other authors are concerned, however, the president is not alone in being confused. Recently it has also been discovered that, in a much less prominent case of intellectual property theft, a Hungarian ministry stands accused of plagiarizing an entire textbook.
The textbook in question is a training text on gender mainstreaming originally authored by Anna Betlen, Andrea Krizsán Andrea and Viola Zentai Viola. It was prepared for use by the Ministry of Social and Employment Affairs in 2009 to be used in training sessions funded by the PROGRESS program of the European Commission.
Last year, however, Hungary’s Ministry of National Resources was also successful in securing PROGRESS funds. They decided to use the textbook used by their predecessor, with the same text printed under different section and chapter headings.
The work of revising the chapter headings, as well as the insertion of additional examples and the updating tables was performed by Bernadett Csurgó, Marianna Horváth, Ildikó Kerekes, Béla Kocsy and Gabriella Losonczi. They are now also listed as the authors of the book published under a brand new title.
The original authors of the text, who happened upon their own book by surfing the net, are now suing for the recognition of their intellectual property rights, but the ministry’s official opinion is that the text was prepared on ministry order in 2009, and as part of their contract, its authors of gave permission to the ministry for re-using their product (more on the story here - link in Hungarian).
Notwithstanding this example, however, most of Hungary’s newfound obsession with authorship and scientific work is focused on the university papers of the “liberal bolshevik” [read: left-opposition] political opposition. Furious over Schmitt’s fate, the government’s supporters have vowed to ferret out every single plagiarist who ever cast a stone at Schmitt.
The call to retaliate for the “wounds” received by Schmitt in this way originated from Zsolt Bayer, the well-known hate-monger, publicist and Peace March organizer. He described the essence of the idea in the context of a lengthy description of ”hickals” – animals at the cross-section of hyenas and jackals – who, according to Bayer, are found en masse in the editorial offices of left-wing and liberal newspapers.
There are “few things more disgusting than hickals,” states Bayer (link in Hungarian, the opinion piece is dated 03/31/2012, two days before Schmitt’s resignation).
“They squeak hideously and dribble while following [their victim] around. They make snaps at his ankle and his withers over and over again, until the victim tires out fatally and falls. If the victim happens to bite or kick back, or if he just screams back at the dirty lot, the hickals draw back immediately, snarling, and with a crying voice they complain about being under attack. In these cases they have a predilection for mentioning “human rights,” and press freedom, and foremost of them all democracy. Because according to the hickals, the essence of democracy is that they can crucify, devour and murder anyone.”
Bayer himself disapproves of the plagiarizing president:
“One does not write a doctoral thesis by copying into it two-hundred pages and calling it a day. This cannot pass …
But: from now on, let’s save time to read master’s theses and doctoral theses. By no chance should it become public opinion that everyone except Pál Schmitt is an absorbed scientist. Indeed, let’s read in the near future some of the theses and dissertations of the hickals. … Let’s see the multitudes of genius among those who are rattling and sputtering right now!”
As usual, cleared of the vicious language that is the trademark of Bayer’s rhetoric, his original intention has found its way into mainstream politics, and into the politics of the governing party. In his response to Schmitt’s resignation in the parliament on April 2nd, Fidesz caucus leader János Lázár urged the Hungarian world of science “to face its past 50 years and purge itself.” Thus began a side-show of distraction, and the Hungarian pastime of reading university papers took off.
As of right now, the search for plagiarized dissertations has only produced two, mildly interesting results. Firstly, that ex-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány received what would be an equivalent of a D on his Master’s thesis and that he is otherwise incapable of producing a copy of it. Secondly, that Viktor Orbán’s thesis is a highly original piece, which shows the author’s close engagement with the theories of no other than Antonio Gramsci.
The Contrarian Hungarian
Read all articles of this series:
[Save Hungarian Democracy]
(1) Viktor Orbán’s speech on March 15, 2011 (in Hungarian – though Mr. Orbán makes several of his speeches, and especially speeches written for an international audience available in English, no translation of last year’s March 15 speech could be found on his website): text version
- audio and video
(3) Quotes illustrating Bogár’s technical terminology: ”Magyarmat” (word play on Hungarian [magyar] and colony [gyarmat] ), opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap from October 4, 2011: http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/velemeny/magyarmat.html
(4) “Magyarország nem gyarmata senkinek sem”/ ”Hungary is not a colony of anyone”: from Viktor Orbán’s speech in Dabas on Sept. 23, 2011.
(5) “There is simply no solution to this. This is a trap, from which the only exit would be to renegotiate the whole thing”: radio interview on May 8, 2010 (see Bogár’s Google-based homepage for the recording at http://sites.google.com/site/tudastar/bogarlaszlo, starting at 3:08)
(6) Gypsies as the bio-weapon of the destructive world force: ”Szép szó…” (Nice word…), opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap, May 3, 2011: http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/velemeny/szep_szo2011.05.03.html. The text in Hungarian: “a Magyarország felszámolását végző pusztító világerő, amely az elmúlt húsz év valamennyi kormányában meghatározó pozícióban volt, van és lesz, a cigányságot építette fel a leghatékonyabb tömegpusztító fegyverként a magyarság ellen.”
(7) Bogár’s influence on Orbán: Háttérkép, 01/12/2012 edition, also viewable on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJOQ4oZRJZw (quote at 3:20).
(8) Viktor Orbán’s speech on March 15, 2012: http://orbanviktor.hu/beszed/nem_leszunk_gyarmat_ – text in Hungarian, just like last year, the prime minister chose not to make this speech available on his website to English-speaking audiences.
This post is part of a broader effort to introduce the ideas and the argumentative styles characteristic of the Hungarian radical right to English-speaking audiences. These circles are gaining considerable influence in the country’s domestic life as Viktor Orbán relies more and more on their distorted presentations of the international developments concerning Hungary’s EU membership and its stalled negotiations with the IMF. László Bogár belongs in the same group of media personalities broadcasting on Echo Television who have been crucial in stirring up populist support for the Hungarian government during the last few months and who have taken leading roles in convening the Békemenet (Peace March) rallies in support of the Hungarian government on Jan. 21 and March 15.
Previous reports on the political discourse characteristic of the Hungarian right covered the journalistic feats of Peace March organizers Zsolt Bayer and András Bencsik (the following are links to part 1
and part 2
of the series).