BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian President Pal Schmitt came under growing pressure on Thursday to stand down after being accused of plagiarizing parts of his doctoral thesis, which critics say threatens the integrity of his office.
His role is largely ceremonial but Schmitt has had an instrumental role in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s reforms, signing controversial legislation such as retroactive taxes and a $14 billion pension grab into law without once raising a veto.
Schmitt, 69, a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning fencer, became president in 2010 when Orban’s ruling conservative Fidesz party elected him for a period of five years.
He has denied wrongdoing since business news portal hvg.hu first reported allegations in January that he had copied large parts of his thesis from other authors without proper quotation or referencing.
But national news agency MTI reported on Thursday that Budapest’s Semmelweis University had proposed that Schmitt’s doctorate be withdrawn based on the findings of its inquiry into the allegations. A final decision is expected later.
The leading right-leaning daily Magyar Nemzet called on Thursday on Schmitt to resign, saying his position had become untenable.
“It is our belief that his staying is also against his own interests,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “This is a losing battle. The destruction of the institution and the crumbling of faith in an honorable public life cannot be stopped like this.”
Two German politicians, including the defense minister, resigned last year after similar accusations of plagiarizing economic papers.
While opposition parties have called on Schmitt to step down, Fidesz said after the findings of the inquiry were published on Tuesday that it considered the matter closed.
Schmitt was quoted by national news agency MTI as saying on Wednesday during a visit to Seoul that he would not resign, adding that the conclusions of the committee served a “some kind of redress” to him.
The committee set up at Semmelweis University said that while the 215-page thesis contained “unusually large amounts of verbatim translation”, it was found to have met the formal standards of the time.
It said 180 pages of Schmitt’s thesis, “An analysis of the program of Modern Olympic Games”, showed partial overlaps with a study written in French by a Bulgarian sport researcher, and 16 pages were copied from another author.
Schmitt, a former Fidesz vice president, received the doctorate from the Budapest Sports University in 1992, according to the presidential office’s website www.keh.hu.
The 1,157-page inquiry report, which was not made available to the public, found the Sports University at fault for not identifying this overlap with other works in time, leading Schmitt to believe his work was in line with requirements.
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Alison Williams