Hungarian President Pál Schmitt resigned on Monday afternoon in a speech to parliament before the beginning of the chamber's normal session.
The president began his speech by saying that as someone who was previously a sportsman and diplomat, he was unused to the public attacks that are commonplace in politics.
Schmitt reiterated the same points he made in his Friday interview, namely that the problems with his doctoral dissertation should have been raised at the time. Schmitt continued that he will try and have the Semmelweis University’s decision overturned and reaffirmed that he intends to write a new PhD, now adding that the topic would be on sports and environmental sustainability.
At the end, he said: "Under the constitution, the president must represent the unity of the Hungarian nation. I have unfortunately become a symbol of division, I feel it is my duty to leave my position,"
A bit late, but it is better later than never.
Political parties' reaction
Hungary's opposition parties welcomed the resignation of President Pál Schmitt and criticised the conduct of the ruling Fidesz-Christian Democratic party alliance.
The deputy head of leftist splinter group Democratic Coalition called Schmitt's resignation as a "real victory for democracy". Csaba Molnár said that with Schmitt's move a presidential model had fallen – one "signing all laws, acting as a puppet, slavishly meeting all demands of the prime minister to the end". According to Molnár, the nominee to replace Schmitt should be someone who can demonstrate the unity of the nation and "heal the wounds Schmitt inflicted on the reputation of the president's post" since his election 18 months ago.
Leader of the Socialist Party Attila Mesterházy said that "the nation has been waiting for days for Schmitt's statement." He said "the voice of honest people has overcome dishonesty." Mesterházy said not only left-wing voters had wanted the president to quit but many right-leaning figures had done so, too. "The nation was unified in demanding Schmitt's resignation," he insisted. The Socialist leader also said that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán should consider this case "as a warning sign that his authority is not unlimited". Mesterházy urged Hungary's democratic parties to jointly select a nominee to replace Schmitt.
Radical nationalist Jobbik party leader Gábor Vona said the president's resignation had been inevitable. He proposed that Schmitt's successor should be elected directly by voters. Vona said the reputation of the presidential post had "eroded" so much during the past few weeks that "a simple political replacement" would not be sufficient, adding it would not suffice for "one of Fidesz's protegees to be succeeded by another". The Jobbik leader added that Schmitt and Orbán had both contributed to the scandal and equally shared responsibility. "Orbán had better not hide and pretend as if he had nothing to do with the situation," Vona said.
LMP said that the governing parties had "failed the test of ethics". The party's group leader, Benedek Jávor, called the day "a sad one for Hungarian democracy" and said the case was "a judgement on Fidesz's staffing policy and its modus operandi."
Following Schmitt's resignation, Fidesz caucus leader János Lázár said the ruling parties had proposed an evening meeting including all five parliamentary parties tonight to discuss the procedure for nominating a new president, and that members of parliament's house committee had agreed that Schmitt's decision to step down should be officially accepted on Monday.Lázár said that the talks would include discussion of a proposal by Jobbik that the presidency be subject to a direct popular election, and the Socialists' notion of nominating former President László Sólyom, whom Schmitt succeeded in 2010.
Before the resignation
Hungarian president said in an interview on MTV, the Hungarian public television, he won't resign after plagiarism accusation.
Schmitt cancelled appointments on his schedule on Friday, a day after being stripped of his doctorate following a months-long plagiarism row which opposition parties say made him unworthy of the job.
The controversy comes at a sensitive time for Hungary as it tries to resolve a lengthy dispute with the European Union on contested new laws to unlock stalled talks on financial support. Online news portals origo.hu and nol.hu cited unnamed sources in the ruling Fidesz party and its Christian Democrat allies as saying that Schmitt, who took office less than two years ago, could announce his departure later in the day. "He should have done this weeks ago," origo.hu cited a top Christian Democrat politician as saying. "The evolution of the situation makes his position more untenable by the hour." A spokeswoman for the president's office said Schmitt would appear on public television in the evening but declined comment on the reports. The government spokesman's office declined comment. A Fidesz spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
An earlier statement from the president's office gave no explanation for Friday's cancellations. Schmitt had been due to meet Slovenia's visiting foreign minister and attend an innovation awards ceremony in parliament. Shortly after the morning announcement, about 20 activists and a lawmaker from the small opposition LMP party staged a protest outside the presidential palace demanding Schmitt's resignation. Before the ruling, Schmitt was quoted as saying by national MTI news agency he would not resign (http://www.freehungary.hu/component/content/article/1-friss-hirek/877-schmitt-vows-not-to-resign-presidency.html). Under Hungarian laws, he can be removed by a two-thirds majority vote in parliament.
"Since the former candidate's doctoral dissertation is based on lengthy literal translations, it does not meet the professional and ethical criteria of the 'dissertation prepared using scientific methods' requirement for obtaining a university doctorate," the university's investigators said in a report. In his first reaction to the scandal, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said it was up to the president to decide what to do. "Nobody except him can decide," Orbán said in a radio interview Friday. Schmitt has played an instrumental role in pushing the agenda of his ally, conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, signing disputed reforms, such as retroactive taxes, into law. The decision by Budapest's Semmelweis University to withdraw Schmitt's doctorate is an embarrassment for Orbán, who called Schmitt the most suitable candidate for president before his appointment by parliament for a five-year term in 2010. During his regular Friday morning interview on public radio, Orbán deflected questions on whether he thought Schmitt, a former vice president of Orbán's ruling Fidesz party and a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning fencer, should resign. "I reiterate, this decision is for him to make on his own," Orbán said.
Schmitt, 69, has denied wrongdoing since business news portal hvg.hu broke allegations in January that he had copied large parts of his 1992 thesis from other authors without proper quotes or referencing. After conducting its own inquiry into the allegations, Semmelweis University stripped Schmitt of his title on Thursday, saying his thesis did not meet scientific and ethical standards. Last year, two German politicians, including the defense minister, resigned after similar accusations of plagiarism. The row has marred the 24th anniversary of the foundation of Orbán's ruling conservative Fidesz party, which grew from a small opposition youth movement under communism into the most dominant political force in Hungary's post-communist history. Dávid Dorosz, a member of LMP, said he believed Schmitt had no option but quit. "Pál Schmitt has been in continuous denial since the middle of January, ever since this issue emerged," he told Reuters near a makeshift camp of five tents in LMP's trademark green outside Schmitt's palace in the luxurious castle district. "We are staying until Pál Schmitt resigns, until this case is reassuringly resolved."
The two leading dailies contend that President Pál Schmitt should have resigned after a fact-finding committee identified academic dishonesty in his doctoral thesis. A left-wing analyst, on the other hand, hopes that Schmitt will stay in office to remind Hungarians of the moral bankruptcy of the Orbán government.
The President missed a golden opportunity when he decided not to step down after the release of the report of the fact-finding committee, and claimed instead that the committee had cleared him of the plagiarism allegations, Magyar Nemzet writes in an op-ed piece. The paper also finds it highly disturbing that in their first statements after the release of the report, the governing parties chose to back the President. According to the right-wing daily, those on the left who believe that the report will have no consequences are wrong. So are those on the right who claim that it acquits President Schmitt of the charges, for the report clearly states that Pál Schmitt violated basic principles of academic honesty. Taking all this into account, President Schmitt, a former sports icon and successful diplomat, should have stepped down, in order to save the authority of Hungarian higher education and what has remained of his own dignity. Every day he spends in office will undermine public morals, Magyar Nemzet fears.
Népszabadság in a front page editorial suggests that President Schmitt was generously offered a possibility by the committee to save face, for the report stopped short of clearly charging him with outright plagiarism. One would have expected a former sportsman to respect fair play and admit his mistakes, the left-wing daily argues. By doing so, he would have also strengthened the belief in the rule of law, instead of sending the message that there are double standards, and some are above the rules. Instead of demanding his resignation, we should hope that the President will remain in office, Zoltán Ripp remarks in Galamus. According to the left-wing political scientist, Fidesz would be the only beneficiary of Schmitt's resignation. If he stays in office, his presence will remind the public of the total moral bankruptcy and absurdity of the Orbán regime, Ripp contends.
In an interview aired Friday on public access television station M1, Schmitt said he would not resign. "I have a clean conscience. I have written my thesis with my best knowledge I had at the time, and I never intended to plagiarize. However, I will accept the decision of the (University) Senate that has withdrawn my doctorate. But this has got nothing to do with me being a president," he said.
Speaking on state TV, Schmitt said "there is no link in my view" between the academic title and his role as head of state. Mr Schmitt said that his "conscience is clear" and that he did not believe there was any reason for him to quit. "I wrote my thesis to the best of my abilities. It was an honest piece of work," the 69-year-old said. "I have never gained any financial or moral advantage from it." He added he would be prepared to write a new thesis to defend his reputation.
"This is a matter of honour," Schmitt said. "I did not mean to claim no one's intellectual product as my own." The President explained that he had "listed the sources, followed the instructions" and he "had not been the one who created the doctorate requirements of the TF "College of Physical Education". He stressed he was a "simple student" and that when the job was done he "leaned back content (thinking) it was an honest, manly job."
"I will prove that I still have the perseverance, just as when I was Olympic champion, and even at the age of 70 I will prove that I am able to write a so-called PhD thesis that meets today's very tough standards." In response to having his doctoral title stripped by Semmelweis University, Schmitt became visibly upset and asked why the university could not have waited another day so that he could speak with them, adding that he would have given the title back himself.
What follows is the English-language version of the complete transcript of the Hungarian-language interview Pál Schmitt gave to the state television on March 29. The interview was conducted by Péter Oversovszky of the Hungarian state television MTV1.
Whatever their political affiliations, Hungary's daily newspapers are united in regretting President Pál Schmitt's refusal to resign, despite being stripped of his doctoral title by the Semmelweis University in Budapest.
Left-wing daily Népszabadság contends in a front page editorial that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would have preferred the President to resign, but Mr Schmitt "unexpectedly showed his bristles and took the first really autonomous decision of his presidency. Those who had hitherto thought of him as a puppet were stunned to see that "he is ready to sign anything but his own resignation." The reason, Népszabadság believes, is that Mr Schmitt has lost touch with reality. "A man is crumbling before our eyes. Hungary's President is being morally pulverised."
Liberal weekly Magyar Narancs does not buy the story that Mr Schmitt is acting on his own initiative, even at the price of embarrassing the Prime Minister. He certainly has been criticised by an array of right-wing intellectuals and newspapers, which has induced many observers to believe that Mr Orbán was behind such criticism. According to Magyar Narancs, however, right-wing intellectual criticism of the President was sparked off by those conservative academics who are in close contact with the international scientific community and who would have risked their international reputations by ignoring the obvious facts. Magyar Narancs thinks the legend about an autonomous and stubborn president refusing to resign in defiance of the explicit wish of the Prime Minister, is a public relations exercise aimed at keeping Mr Orbán as far as possible from this unpleasant case.
In komment.hu, Albert Gazda offers a similar explanation: Schmitt "has been left on his own, so let him fight his own struggle if he can." The governing élite is trying to distance itself from the President's plagiarism case, by describing Mr Schmitt as an autonomous personality whose decisions cannot be influenced by the parliamentary majority and who therefore has to bear the consequences of his own deeds. The opposition parties, on the other hand, are trying to drive home their own message, that as Mr Schmitt was chosen by the Prime Minister, Mr Orbán must be held responsible for what has happened. Gazda thinks the opposition is in a better position to persuade the public. He is therefore convinced that the President will have to resign in the not too distant future. Great resignations are not announced at once. (Germany's former president) Christian Wulff and (former Prime Minister) Berlusconi (of Italy) remained in office for months," after their own scandals blew up.
HVG's commentator does not mince his words: "Even the loyalty of public actors known for their pro-government leanings was overwhelmed by Pál Schmitt's stench." The columnist, Árpád W. Tóta thinks that those right-wing intellectuals who have openly called on Mr Schmitt to resign knew exactly what the preferences of the Prime Minister were, but found it impossible to act accordingly. The commentator believes that they should also turn away from Mr Orbán, for it was the premier who sent Mr Schmitt to the Sándor Palace (the Presidential office in the Buda Castle). This was a mistake, according to Tóta, since he believes Mr Schmitt has been a puppet. But, he adds, the premier is refusing to admit his mistake, and by doing so is sending the wrong message, after his protégé has been officially declared "an embezzler". The Prime Minister's behaviour means that "rather than admitting that he misjudged his candidate, it turns out that this is precisely why he likes him."
In a short but sharp editorial, Hírszerző describes Mr Schmitt as "Hungary's Borat". The left-liberal author suggests the President does not understand what the problem is. He does not see why his thesis is problematic, nor does he understand the report the fact-finding committee published on his doctorate. "He simply is unable to make sense of it all." That is precisely what reminds Hirszerző of Borat, the dumb Kazakh journalist impersonated by Sacha Baron Cohen, who just does not understand the Western world. But that was a joke. "Our President has managed to perform the same act in all seriousness – congratulations!"
Jobbklikk (Right Click), a conservative opinion website that has often been critical of the government recently, calls upon the left-wing media to be as critical of left-w ing politicians as the conservative media has been of President Pál Schmitt. He reminds his left-wing colleagues of their silence whenever their own political idols were caught red-handed in the past. The first President of the Republic, Free Democrat Árpád Göncz, whose 90th birthday was celebrated recently with great reverence, anti-constitutionally prevented an attempt to put an end to the taxi drivers blockade of the bridges of Budapest in 1990. Four years later, their Prime Minister Gyula Horn answered "so what?" when he was confronted with evidence of his activity in the communist militia that took revenge on the revolutionaries after the Hungarian uprising was crushed by the Soviet Union in 1956. Their next premier, Péter Medgyessy turned out to have been a secret agent, and the left wing press never demanded his resignation. Their longest serving premier, Ferenc Gyurcsány, after a dubious past involved in the privatisation of state property, admitted having lied and mismanaged public finances in order to win a second term. The president of the National Bank, another favourite of the left-wing press, once kept his wealth abroad in an offshore account. The left-wing press never called on any of those personalities to resign. Their right-wing counterparts have now set an example, and Jobbklikk hopes leftist journalists will take this excellent opportunity to emulate them and put an end to the fatal division of the Hungarian media landscape. All they have to do is support the latest proposals to ban former leading communist officials from public office, Jobbklikk writes.
In Magyar Hírlap, Zsolt Bayer calls the left wing pundits „hyckals", creating his own hybrid of hyenas and jackals, because of the cruel manhunt they have staged against President Pál Schmidt. He describes „hyckals" as a species according to whom "democracy means that they are entitled to crucify whomsoever they choose." Meanwhile, Bayer also believes that the President should resign, as "his position is untenable." He acknowledges that "copy-pasting" is not an acceptable method of compiling a doctoral thesis, but is convinced that on the other side of the political spectrum there must be abundant examples of the same kind of irregularities. Bayer therefore invites his fact-finding colleagues to seek out examples of plagiarism in the doctoral theses of left-wing public personalities. He reminds Schmitt's left-wing persecutors of the President's merits as an Olympic champion and successful diplomat, and concludes by declaring that "...he is worth a thousand times more than you. Even including his (plagiarised) doctoral thesis."
Heti Válasz calls on the President to revise his decision and step down. In an unsigned editorial, expressing the official stance of the weekly rather than the opinion of one columnist, Pál Schmitt is described as a fencer who keeps fighting when the bout is long over and lost. Heti Válasz does not mind if Pál Schmitt intends to defend himself against the charges and write a PhD thesis to prove his skills, but thinks that he should do so as a private citizen, not as President of the Republic. Otherwise he will not only put his own prestige at risk, but will also jeopardise his country's reputation, Heti Válasz concludes.
Those who resigned
The chancellor of Semmelweis University, whose senate last Thursday withdrew the doctorate of President Pál Schmitt in connection with plagiarism charges, has said he is resigning from his post.
Tivadar Tulassay last Sunday said in a statement on the university's website that to ensure "peace at the university" he had decided to step down. He said this did not mean he did not continue to support the senate's decision to strip Schmitt of his title. Tulassay's term was to have ended on June 30.
Source: Reuters, BBC, CNN, Portfolio.hu, Budapost.eu, MTI
Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11