Montenegro’s science minister accused of plagiarism

Sanja Vlahovic

Sanja Vlahovic, science minister of Montenegro, copied two-thirds of a 2010 paper on tourism from previously published work by other academics, according to the national daily newspaper Vijesti.

The newspaper compared her paper, “Destinations’ Competitiveness in Modern Tourism,” presented at the Tourism & Hospitality Management 2010 conference in Opatija, Croatia, to three previously published papers and found much of the content to be identical, without the minister acknowledging two of those papers in the bibliography.

The first chapter of her paper came from the University of Westminster’s Dimitros Buhalis’ 2000 paper “Marketing the Competitive Destination of the Future Destinations Integrated Experience for Tourists,” it says, with the only differences appearing in the final paragraph of the chapter.

Her second chapter is “almost identical” to an article the World Tourist Organisation’s 2009 paper “World Tourism Trends: Hopes for Moderate Growth in 2010,” it says. And her third chapter features parts of a paper, “Destination competitiveness: a framework for future research,” published in 2009 in Entelequia: Revista Interdisciplinar by Ramona Gruescu, Roxana Nanu and Gheorghe Pirvu.

On Sunday there were calls from other academics for the minister to step down over plagiarism.

“In normal states somebody who is caught stealing cannot be in a public function, especially not in science minister’s position,” Branka Bosnjak, an academic with the University of Montenegro and a politician for the Democratic Front party, told the paper. She called for the minister’s other academic work to be checked for plagiarism, too. Vlahovic is member of Democratic Party of Socialists.

The case triggered extensive coverage in Vijesti of the wider issues to do with Montenegro’s lack of plagiarism detection software and laws to deal with copying and pasting.

Vijesti also claimed that one of the minister’s papers that she said she published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, “Determinants and Indicators of Destinations’ Competitiveness in Modern Tourism Industries,” was nowhere to be found and the journal never heard of it.

It says the missing paper was used to help fulfill requirements of her election to professorship at the private Mediterranean University, in capital Podgorica, in 2011.

The minister replied in a statement printed by Pobjeda newspaper, saying the missing paper was published in conference proceedings elsewhere and that she had enough qualifications to be elected to professorship even without that paper.

But she did not address directly the allegations of plagiarism and she said she would not make further public statements about the case. We’ve contacted her for comment.

If the allegations are true, Vlahovic joins other European ministers who’ve recently fallen victim to copy-and-paste scandals. As we noted in a recent post:

There was German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who resigned after losing his PhD for a plagiarized thesis, and German education and research minister Annette Schavan, who resigned after she lost her doctorate for the same reason. (The final university report on the Schavan case has just been leaked.)

Update, 9/25/14, 7:47 a.m. Eastern: We’ve learned more about this case. The president of the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts, Momir Djurovic, told us that documents showing suspicion of plagiarism by the minister were sent to the academy as far back as two years ago. The academy has passed these on to the relevant authorities but with no reply, he says:

Two years ago the academy warned the prime minister in writing. And around a year or so ago, we also sent the documentation [detailing plagiarism] we received anonymously to the rector of the university where she is a professor.

But there was no official reply: “We did not judicate,” he says, adding it was not the academy’s business to react, but only to report the allegations to the relevant institutions.

He said he would resign if the same suspicions arose about his work, and added that it was clear from the documents that the paper in question is plagiarised.

The minister has not denied the accusations or offered to resign yet – but she may leave the ministry anyway, according to local news outlets.

Sources suggest that in the upcoming restructuring of the government, the science ministry will be absorbed by the education ministry, and Vlahovic will lose her seat. Djurovic also says this is likely.

She will still have her professor position to go back to, though.

Update, 9/27/14, 14:35 p.m. Eastern: We’ve learned more about this case. The university told us in an e-mail that they “did not get an official letter from the academy of science with documents showing plagiarism” and that they “established commission with obligation to test the facts”. The government replied to our e-mail but did not address our questions.

8 thoughts on “Montenegro’s science minister accused of plagiarism”

  1. These people are so lazy (arrogant?). If they paraphrased rather than simply cutting-and-pasting like a dodgy student, they would probably get away with it. (I wish one conference proceeding was enough to earn me a professorship, but I’m obviously working in the wrong area).

    1. And let’s not forget the even more worrisome involvement of the Taiwanese Minister in the 60+-paper retraction from Sage’s JVC… and his subsequent resignation. The thing is, even if these politicians retire in scandal, they still made a killing off tax-payer’s money. It’s a disgrace. Hoping to see that resignation soon.

    2. I took a quick hop down the rabbit hole to see if the professorship was documented anywhere in the literature.

      Here is a pdf that outlines three of the reviews used for the selection process that recommended Vlahovic for her associate professorship (starting on about page 8):

      It is written in Serbian, so I’d recommend plugging the webpage into some type of translation tool if you want to read it in English. Here’s the google webpage translation tool link:

      Interestingly, one of her reviewers, Prof.dr Janko Radulović, gives a short summary on both her book, “Leadership in Contemporary Organizations,” and the now missing article, “Determinants and Indicators of Destinations’ Competitiveness in Modern Tourism Industries,” and claims that, in her work, the conclusions are accurate, meaningful, and original.

      It’s a real shame that such a potentially valuable article is suddenly lost to the world right when it’s receiving so much publicity.

      1. Edit: also, I will point out that the PDF is also linked to in the main news release. My Serbian is weak, so it took me some time read through it.

  2. Politicians are very vain people. Most just want to be popular, but some are just set to prove their electorate how intelligent they are (not) by boasting PhD titles or professorships. E.g., among German conservatives, you could look out of place without a PhD. It is not a surprise that career politicians take the easy route of plagiarism, but it is a shame that the faculties help them along. Here, she was apparently asked to publish anything paper-like to satisfy some university’s nominal criteria for the professorship that was hers anyway. And isn’t a science minister in charge of science funding? Ahem….

  3. What makes this case remarkable in my view is not the fact that yet another politician is found to be capable of copying someone else’s work. What is most significant is that this activity is considered reprehensible at all. After all, Montenegro is a tiny place where corruption is commonplace and civic society is still weak. So even if this was all down to dirty fights between political rivals, which I do not know, proven dishonesty is no longer simply shrugged off. Go Crna Gora!

    1. And on the issue of academic dishonesty and lack of integrity, Walmart’s spokesperson or vice president of corporate communications (David Tovar) resigned after it was revealed that two decades ago, he in fact did not complete his colleage degree at the University of Delaware. A lie that had been concealed for 20 years. And all this individual has to do is resign?!! Why isn’t he forced to pay back a portion of the salary he unfairly received over 20 years? These scams and scandals are sickening. But what is more sickening is that these individuals are just lef off the hook and to move on freely to the next job or position. I got the story here:

      1. Interesting. In these instances, do you believe that it is up to each person to be responsible for their own conduct, or to also look at from where some other major pitfalls are continuously occurring in the business process, such as during the initial review for hiring an employee, and to then encourage fact checking and quality assurance?

        In the case with David Tovar of Walmart, the misrepresentation of his credentials went unnoticed until years later, and by then he had already made a name for himself. The news site Bloomberg also pointed out several other occurances where this same pattern was seen and the short list included former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson and former RadioShack CEO David Edmondson.

        The subject of this post, Sanja Vlahovic, was also given several jobs that were based on at least one apparently plagiarized paper, though she currently remains in her role as the science minister.

        Once each of these resume fluffers successfully gained their position, they became so ingrained that few subsequent consequences were ever forthcoming. If there were stronger measures in place to try and prevent these falsifications from ever taking root, would we see a downward shift in total number of cases? Of course, it would not stop the problem altogether, but it would hopefully discourage a few people from trying.

        It usually only involves a few phone calls to fact check CV bullets, so it is just laziness or internal politics that allow these flubs to slip through?

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