Add Serbia to the list of countries with openly gay prime ministers.
Ana Brnabić, 41, was not elected to the position but appointed. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced Thursday evening that he had chosen Brnabić to succeed him as prime minister and form a new government, The Guardian reports. She is the first woman and the first gay person to hold the position, something that “is all the more remarkable given that virulent homophobia is still widespread in the Balkans,” the U.K. newspaper notes.
Brnabić, who was educated in the U.S. and the U.K., then returned to Serbia to work in the wind power industry, became the Serbian government’s first out gay minister last year, running the ministry for public administration and local self-government. LGBT rights activists praised her appointment but had low expectations for progress, given that discrimination and violence are common in Serbia.
“Even in some Western countries it would be big news and a positive signal if a gay or lesbian person became prime minister or minister,” Goran Miletić, an organizer of Belgrade Pride, told The Guardian. “It is even more important for a country where 65 percent believe that homosexuality is an illness and 78 percent think that homosexuality should not be expressed outside homes. The appointment of a lesbian can only be a positive message.” Advancing LGBT rights has not been a high priority for the government, he added.
But some observers see her appointment as a way for Vučić to retain control, even though the nation’s constitution gives the prime minister more power than the president, the paper reports. Vučić has been accused of suppressing the media and overlooking corrupt actions by his allies, and he was a supporter of Slobodan Milošević, a despot who was president of Serbia and later Yugoslavia (Serbia was once part of Yugoslavia) in the late 20th century, and died in 2006 while on trial for crimes against humanity.
Boban Stojanović, a political scientist at the University of Belgrade, told The Guardian that Brnabić’s appointment “will mask the real picture of the situation of civil and human rights in Serbia. The choice of a member of the LGBT community for prime minister will be used as an indicator of the state of civil and human rights, and that is not realistic.”
There are currently two other openly gay prime ministers in Europe: Leo Varadkar, whose election in Ireland was confirmed by Parliament this week, a formality after he was elected head of the ruling party, Fine Gael, June 2, and Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg. Previous out European heads of government include Elio di Rupo, a gay man who was Belgium's prime minister from 2011 to 2014, and Johanna Sigurdardottir, a lesbian who was Iceland's prime minister from 2009 to 2013.