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Czech politicians resign over academic plagiarism

Suryara BernardiTwo government ministers in the Czech Republic have recently resigned amid accusations of having plagiarized their university theses. Tatana Mala, 36, who was justice minister for just a few short weeks, resigned early in July after evidence showed that her two bachelor’s theses—she has degrees in law and agricultural engineering—contained excerpts copied from other papers without giving due credit. Plagiarism detection software found that at least 5% of the thesis defended by Mala in 2011 at the Pan-European University in Bratislava, Slovakia, had been copied from a paper presented five years earlier at Masaryk University in the city of Brno, Czech Republic. The text even contained the same spelling mistakes as the original. Excerpts from a law reference book were also plagiarized. The same was observed in the thesis Mala defended at Mendell University, Brno, in 2005, on the influence of microclimatic conditions on rabbit reproduction. She copied at least 11 pages of a paper on the subject presented by another student two years earlier.

In mid-July, Petr Krcal, 53, minister of labor and social affairs, faced the same scandal. He resigned shortly after announcements that three-quarters of his social pedagogy bachelor’s thesis, defended in 2007 at Tomas Bata University in the Czech city of Zlin, was copied from other texts. Krcal began studying his degree at the age of 40, having already started his political career. “I worked hard on my bachelor’s thesis, although I admit there may have been irregularities in the work,” said Krcal, when announcing his resignation.

Jan Mach, an IT specialist at the Prague School of Economics who helped identify the plagiarized sections, says cases like these are rare nowadays because most universities in the country publish dissertations and theses online and plagiarism detection tools are widely available. “Both these ministerial theses date back more than ten years ago when plagiarism was much harder to detect,” Mach said, according to the Radio Prague website. Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who took eight months assembling a coalition government, said he hoped that the rest of his cabinet had no reason to worry about their graduation theses.