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Hungary to hold referendum on LGBT issues by early 2022

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Demonstrators attend a protest against a law that bans LGBTQ content in schools and media at the Presidential Palace in Budapest, Hungary, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

Hungary plans to hold a referendum on legislation that limits schools' teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues late this year or early next year, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff has said, write Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves in Budapest and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels.

Orban announced the referendum on Wednesday (21 July), stepping up a culture war with the European Union. Read more.

The European Commission last week began legal action over the measures, which have been included in amendments to education and child protection laws. If successful, Brussels could hold up funding for Hungary while the restrictions are maintained.

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"For Hungary, there are many more arguments in favour of European Union membership than against it. Joining the EU was the right decision, it was in our national interest and it remains to be the case," Gergely Gulyas, Orban's chief of staff, told a weekly news briefing.

But he said Hungary believed it had the right to comment on what he called "the rules of the club" and make decisions on its own on issues where it had not handed over authority to EU institutions.

Asked about the referendum, the EU Commission said it does not interfere with member states' chosen methods of policymaking, although it considered the Hungarian law discriminatory.

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The measures, which have caused anxiety in the LGBT community, ban the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change at schools, ostensibly as a measure to prevent child abuse.

Several civil rights groups have criticised Orban's reforms and a global survey last month by the Ipsos polling organisation found that 46% of Hungarians support same-sex marriage.

Gulyas said Hungary was still in talks with the Commission on its national pandemic recovery plan. But he added that the government would start pre-financing projects from the national budget.

The European Commission listed serious concerns about the rule of law in Poland and Hungary in a report on Tuesday that could help decide whether they receive billions of euro in EU funds to help recover from the pandemic. Read more.

Orban, who has been in power since 2010 and faces an election next April, portrays himself as a defender of traditional Christian values against Western liberalism.

He owes some of his electoral success to a hard line against immigration, but as that subject has ceased to dominate the agenda, he has nailed his colours to issues of gender and sexuality.

Hungary

Pope urges Hungary to be more open to needy outsiders

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Pope Francis (pictured) said on Sunday (12 September) that Hungary could preserve its Christian roots while opening up to the needy, an apparent response to nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's stand that Muslim immigration could destroy its heritage, write Philip Pullella and Gergely Szakacs.

Francis was in Hungary for an unusually short stay that underlined differences with the anti-immigrant Orban, his political opposite.

Closing a Church congress with a Mass for tens of thousands of people in central Budapest, Francis used the imagery of a cross to show that something as deeply rooted as religious belief did not exclude a welcoming attitude.

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"The cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone," he said in his remarks after the Mass.

"The cross urges us to keep our roots firm, but without defensiveness; to draw from the wellsprings, opening ourselves to the thirst of the men and women of our time," he said at the end of the open-air Mass, which Orban attended with his wife.

"My wish is that you be like that: grounded and open, rooted and considerate," the pope said.

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Francis has often denounced what he sees as a resurgence of nationalist and populist movements, and has called for European unity, and criticised countries that try to solve the migration crisis with unilateral or isolationist actions.

Orban, by contrast, told the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia last week the only solution to migration was for the European Union to "give all rights back to the nation state".

Pope Francis arrives to meet with representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis greets people as he arrives in Heroes' Square in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis arrives at Budapest International Airport in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The pope has called for migrants to be welcomed and integrated to tackle what he has called Europe's "demographic winter". Orban said in Slovenia that today's migrants "are all Muslims" and that only "the traditional Christian family policy can help us out of that demographic crisis."

Francis, 84, who spent only around seven hours in Budapest, met Orban and President Janos Ader at the start of his visit.

The Vatican said the meeting which was also attended by the Vatican's top two diplomats and a Hungarian cardinal, lasted about 40 minutes and was cordial.

"I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish," Orban said on Facebook. Hungarian news agency MTI said Orban gave Francis a facsimile of a letter that 13th century King Bela IV sent to Pope Innocent IV asking for help in fighting the Tartars.

Later on Sunday Francis arrived in Slovakia, where he will stay much longer, visiting four cities before returning to Rome on Wednesday.

The brevity of his Budapest stay has prompted diplomats and Catholic media to suggest the pope is giving priority to Slovakia, in effect snubbing Hungary. Read more.

The Vatican has called the Budapest visit a "spiritual pilgrimage". Orban's office has said comparisons with the Slovakia leg would be "misleading".

The trip is the pope's first since undergoing major surgery in July. Francis told reporters on the plane taking him to Budapest that he was "feeling fine".

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Agriculture

Agriculture: Commission approves new geographical indication from Hungary

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The Commission has approved the addition of ‘Szegedi tükörponty' from Hungary in the register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). ‘Szegedi tükörponty' is a fish of the carp species, produced in Szeged region, near Hungary's southern border, where a system of fish ponds was created. The alkaline water of the ponds gives the fish a particular vitality and resilience. The flaky, reddish, flavorsome flesh of the fish farmed in these ponds, and its fresh aroma with no side-tastes, can be directly attributed to the specific saline land.

The quality and flavour of the fish are directly influenced by the good oxygen supply at the lake bed in the fish ponds created on saline soil. The flesh of ‘Szegedi tükörponty' is high in protein, low in fat and very flavoursome. The new denomination will be added to the list of 1563 products already protected in the eAmbrosia database. More information online on quality products.

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Hungary

Commission approves new geographical indication for Hungary

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The European Commission has approved the application for the inclusion of “Jászsági nyári szarvasgomba” from Hungary in the Register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). "Jászsági nyári szarvasgomba" means the local fresh variety of underground fungus of the species white summer truffle, collected in the region of Jászság, in the north-west of the Hungarian Great Plain. Its scent is unique and pleasant. When picked, it first exhibits aromas of cooked corn or roasted and fermented malted barley, accompanied by the characteristic scent of freshly cut grass.

During the harvest period and during storage, the scent changes, but it retains the typical aroma of freshly cut grass. Its taste itself is intense. The “Jászsági nyári szarvasgomba” grow from the end of May until the end of August. The conditions in the Jászság region are particularly favorable for the establishment and multiplication of summer truffles. Some of the other names used by the population to qualify “Jászsági nyári szarvasgomba”, such as “black diamond of Jászság”, “gold of Jászság” or even “Jász trifla”, all indicate that the product is very appreciated in the region. This new name will join the 1,561 food products already registered, the list of which is available in the eAmbrosia database.

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