Historian Krisztián Ungváry rejects charges of plagiarism, unprofessional conduct

January 27, 2015


Viktor Orban must resign.

Ungváry, a well-known researcher of 20th-century Hungarian history submitted his book “The Balance Sheet of the Horthy System” (A Horthy-rendszer mérlege), for the consideration of an academic doctoral title last year. A young historian at ELTE University, who was appointed as his second reader, Dániel Bolgár, a teaching assistant, now however is accusing Ungváry of not doing original research for his book, as well as with plagiarizing previous works and using source data of questionable reputation.

Were Hungarian Jews extremely rich?

In his 2012 book, Ungváry’s main statement is that deep-rooted anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish politics in Hungary between 1919 and 1945 are the results of very worldly and material issues. He argues that marginalizing Hungary’s Jewish community on a racial basis was due to the political elite’s efforts to promote an “anti-Semitic social politics.” Ungváry in part supported his claim by pointing out that what he considers a “large amount of national wealth” owned by Jews before the Holocaust served as the basis of the funds from which subsequent Hungarian governments established basic social services in the country during the 1930s.

Not much attention had been paid to this statement up until the doctoral consideration process was about to start in mid-2014. Dániel Bolgár, a researcher in Hungarian Jewish social history, attacked Ungváry’s claim about the amount of national wealth that was owned by Jews in Hungary, and argued that the statistics Ungváry used to support his claims are completely unreliable, as they have mostly been produced by far-rightist fake-experts often inventing  numbers instead of researching them. Bolgár however claims that Ungváry took the claims of all these sources (like works of Zoltán Bosnyák, president of the “Hungarian Institute for the Research of the Jewish Question”, founded by Nazi-backed Hungarian Arrow Cross leaders in 1944) for granted, missing out on critical assessment.

In conclusion, Bolgár made the following conclusion in his original article appearing in Magyar Narancs:

“Those, who at the time (after the 1938-41 round of Hungarian anti-Jewish laws) were playing with the thought of robbing Jewish wealth, according to the signs, were only dreaming about how huge this wealth really is, how much the bounty will be. Those historians who assess Jewish wealth based on these anti-Semitic fantasies commit a huge mistake as well as readers who rely on them entirely.”

An uncomfortable showdown

The original article was followed by a long change of arguments between Bolgár and Ungváry, at the end of which Ungváry reacted to the original accusations by calling Bolgár a “superficial reader” and argued that he proved the amount of Jewish wealth in Horthy-era Hungary in multiple ways. Ungváry wrote that “the examination of the elite-wealth is quite enough as Jews were highly over-represented in the Hungarian elite” and suggested Bolgár “visit a public library of better quality sometime, to access the Hungarian Statistical Yearbooks of the era.” In conclusion the historian accused his colleague of being biased against him, and that his attack is quite personal.

After a series of responses from both sides, Gábor Iványi, rector of Wesley College in Budapest, proposed an open-floor discussion on the merits of Ungváry’s book. Ungváry insisted that if he attends, Bolgár should also be invited in order to better articulate his claims. Bolgár indeed attended the evening debate, and proceeded with openly charging Ungváry of not being a professional in his field as well as with plagiarizing earlier literature on the topic.

Bolgár made a comparison between Ungváry’s work and an earlier work on the topic by historian Péter Bihari, saying the former’s work contains entire copied passages of the latter, while leaving its original footnotes out. As Bolgár said,

“Ungváry is not even capable of providing the quality of the works usually produced by a rural schoolteacher.”

Ungváry vigorously refuted Bolgár’s claims, asking for a firm retraction of his accusations.

This is where the professional debate entered open stage. Following the debate, Budapest independent Tilos Radio invited Bolgár and Ungváry to a follow-up discussion. Only Bolgár accepted and used this opportunity to once again slam Ungváry as an amateur. The debate continued on conservative blog Mandiner with a series of personal attacks from both sides. In his latest response, Ungváry asked Bolgár to finally publish his criticism in the form of an academic publication in a peer-reviewed journal, instead of op-ed pieces in the daily press.

Somebody else is running the show?

The latest round of debate made Index journalist Ádám Kolozsi write about what is in the background of the unusually heated tone. In defence of Ungváry, Mária M. Kovács, a social historian of Hungarian anti-Semitism at CEU, told Index that Bolgár’s remarks might be attributed to House of Terror director Mária Schmidt’s proxy-attack to discredit Ungváry for criticizing her “House of Fates” Holocaust museum project supported by the state using billions of forints. Kovács added, however, that these suspicions “are impossible to justify in a factual way.”

The idea that Schmidt can be behind the attacks is explained by Index, with the fact that Bolgár’s doctoral supervisor at ELTE Social History Department is András Gerő, a historian working with Schmidt on various projects for a long time. Gerő is the director of the Institute for the Research of the 20th Century, a research base usually recognized as part of the “Mária Schmidt universe.” Answering a recent criticism of Ungváry against the Monument for the German Occupation, Schmidt called him the “hatchetman of the Hungarian historian establishment.”

Péter Bihari, the historian whose work Ungváry plagiarized according to Bolgár, also defended Ungváry and said in a facebook post that the young social historian is wrong, as “Ungváry … has made at least five references to my work in his book.”

András Gerő told Index that he personally “does not want to dedicate his time dealing with extreme conspiracy theories” linking his person to the case.

As opposed to the billions of forints of state support provided to new, nationalist revisionist historical institutions such as Veritas or the Institute for the Research of the Change of Regimes by the government, traditional and academically accepted institutions, such as the Historical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, National Széchényi Library as well as state universities received only HUF 116 billion (USD 470 million) altogether in 2014. In addition, the government discontinued its long-established professional research fund OTKA at the end of October, substantially decreasing the quality of juries deciding on fund applications. That is barely enough to cover operational costs. In addition, the government provides a much smaller number of openings at these traditional research facilities, prompting young historians to choose between working at the new institutions, that often promulgate political propaganda, or leave the trade entirely.

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