Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

Analysis

Hard days ahead for Serbia's gay PM

  • Pride parades in Belgrade still require heavy police presence (Photo: Heinrich-Boell-Stiftung)

Serbia rarely makes breaking news in international media these days, but last week was an exception. On Wednesday (15 June), its former prime minister and now newly elected president, Aleksandar Vucic, appointed Ana Brnabic, a 41-year-old financial consultant, as the next prime minister.

Brnabic hit the headlines because she’s openly gay, which immediately triggered the debate about how much Serbia has changed since the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Brnbic: "I don’t want to be branded as a 'gay minister'." (Photo: Wikipedia)

The appointment came as a surprise to the rest of the world, but not so much within Serbia: Brnabic already had a position in Vucic’s cabinet, where she had served as minister for public and local administration and achieved some success in modernising Serbia’s cumbersome bureaucracy.

Western-educated, smart, and clearly pro-European, she kept a low profile while projecting an aura of quiet efficiency. She is distinctly non-partisan and was brought in to the government as an expert.

Her name had been circulated as a possible successor to Vucic for several weeks, although most people believed that the job would go to acting foreign minister Ivica Dacic, an apparatchik.

When she first entered the cabinet in August last year, Brnabic caused mild curiosity rather than outrage. She never hid her sexual orientation, but liked to stress that she is not an activist.

“I don’t want to be branded as a ‘gay minister’, just as my colleagues don’t want to be branded as ‘straight ministers’”, she said in a recent interview.

She took part in last year’s Belgrade Pride parade, but she bluntly indicated that LGBT rights are not part of her portfolio.

“I’m not here [in government] as an advocate of the LGBT community”, she said.

That is why Brnabic being gay was met with relatively little resistance, apart from some grumbles by ultraconservatives in the Serbian Orthodox Church and by fringe far-right parties.

Serbia’s LGBT community was divided on the issue: while most thought that it was a big step forward, others saw it as pinkwashing - a gay-friendly PR stunt designed to mask the fact that Serbian society and politics are still homophobic.

They pointed out that annual Pride parades still required a heavy police presence and that gay and trans people were often subjected to physical attacks, with the perpetrators almost never being punished.

Much more controversial is Brnabic’s role in Vucic’s increasingly autocratic style of rule.

Pinkwash

Some have said her elevation was also designed to mask the president's crackdowns on the opposition and on free press from the West.

Her critics stress that she was not elected, but appointed by the new president, who did not consult his own party or coalition partners. Brnabic reportedly learned from the media that she had gotten the job.

There are other downsides. Brnabic’s lack of political experience will make it difficult for her to oversee Serbia’s many ministers (there are 19 in the cabinet).

The fact that she does not have much support in Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party also makes her politically vulnerable and highly dependent on the president’s support.

Progressives were disappointed that the new PM did not come from their party’s rank-and-file and some are already sharpening their knives.

This internal pressure apparently caused Vucic to take a few steps back.

On Friday, just two days after he announced Brnabic’s appointment, he declared that she would “only deal with economic issues, while politics will be dealt with by Dacic”, downgrading her authority even before she took office.

On Saturday, he also signalled that Brnabic might not get enough votes to be confirmed by parliament, in which the Progressives have a clear majority.

The Serbian president added that he would hold intensive talks with party members, postponing her confirmation, which was due this Monday, and is now expected to take place next week.

Burning Ana Brnabic

Does this mean that Brnabic might not, after all, become Serbia’s first gay PM?

She probably will.

Most analysts agree that Vucic has deliberately overplayed the resistance within his party, which has, so far, complied with his every whim.

Some believe he is using the situation to tighten control over the Progressives and to purge unruly people, whereas others say that he is planning another round of early parliamentary elections.

In any case, he seems to like campaigning more than every-day government. Serbia has had four of such elections in the past five years, all of them called for no compelling reason, but had the effect of placing him centre stage.

Meanwhile, Brnabic’s future in Serbian politics does not look bright.

She lacks legitimacy and popularity within the government and will most likely end up being burned before too long.

Analysis

Serbia's Vucic stronger than ever

After winning the presidency by a landslide, Alexander Vucic will be seen as even more crucial for the stability of the Western Balkans, despite concerns over the handling of his powers and closeness with Russia.

Serb minister love-bombs EU

The EU and Serbia have moved a step closer despite regional tensions, with a Serb minister calling the EU "the best place in the world".

Interview

Gay rights face backlash in Poland

Polish society is becoming more gay-friendly, but anti-gay activists are becoming more radical and the government is doing little to stop it, says gay right activist Agata Chaber.

Opinion

Kosovo-Serbia deal: addressing the fears

Window of opportunity for Kosovo-Serbia deal is wide open, but not for long, the Kosovar president's chief of staff writes for EUobserver as talks resume on Friday.

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year. Sweden's ambassador to the EU, Lars Danielsson, laid out some of its priorities.

Catalan spyware victims demand justice

Victims of the widening spyware scandal in Spain are demanding justice and reparations, following the revelations that journalists, lawyers, civil society and politicians had been targeted.

Investigation

EU lawmakers under pressure to act on 90,000 asbestos deaths

The EU Commission has watered-down a broad political initiative —but now governments of member states hold the key to what the EU should do. Some member states and regions have adopted asbestos strategies of some kind, from Poland to Flanders.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us