Serbia to get first openly gay minister

Serbia to get first openly gay minister
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade August 9, 2016

Serbia’s parliament is due to vote on August 9 on a new cabinet that will include the country’s first openly gay minister, Ana Brnabic.

The gay community in Serbia is, alongside the Roma community, the most discriminated against minority group in the country. Improvement of the LGBT population’s position in society is an important aspect of Serbia’s EU integration process.

Speaking at a press conference on August 8, prime minister designate Aleksandar Vucic said he and Brnabic had discussed the issue of her orientation before she was put forward as his nominee for minister of state administration.

“Ana Brnabic and myself had a conversation on that aspect. She doesn’t hide it and speaks about it proudly,” Vucic said in response to a journalist’s question.

According to Vucic, he had reassured Brnabic after she voiced concern about the public response. “She is so nice and lovely ... I told her: ‘I mind about what you can do and I know how expert and hard worker you are’.”

He added that he is happy to work with someone like Brnabic, as her biography is without a single blemish.

Brnabic comes to the government from National Alliance for Local Economic Development (NALED), where she served as board president. As part of the NALED team she worked as coordinator for USAID program for economic development of local communities in Serbia which brought her in close contact with the government. She was also engaged in USAID’s program for the reform of local governments in Romania.

Before moving to NALED, Brnabic was a founder of Development Consulting Group and used to work at Continental Wind Serbia. She was awarded Business Lady of the Year 2013, in the socially responsible management segment.

Many Serbians have a negative perception of gays, who are often described as “non-normal”. This stems from the traditional and patriarchic society, in which women are also placed below men, and is partly a consequence of almost five centuries of Ottoman rule, which ended in the late 19th century. Openly gay politicians are rare not just in Serbia but across Central and Southeast Europe, though Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics came out in November 2014.

Brnabic’s appointment has been welcomed by the gay community in Serbia. Prominent gay activist and president of the Gay Lesbian Info Center, Predrag Azdejkovic, coined the phrase that has been used in almost all local media afterwards: “Little step for Serbia, big step for LGBT population,” Azdejkovic said on Facebook.

Also among the first to react was Boris Milicevic, the first gay activist to enter politics. He is a high level official in the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the junior partner of Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in the new government. Brnabic is not a member of any political party.

“This is an important moment for the entire history of Serbia’s LGBT community. I hope that the move of the mandated PM and future minister will encourage more LGBT people to take part in politics, as well as to encourage many who already hold positions within government to come out. Now, they do not have excuses,” Milicevic posted on his Facebook wall.

However, the programme director for the Western Balkans at Civil Rights Defenders, Goran Miletic, another well-known gay activist, took a more cynical line.

“Mandated PM promoted first gay female minister which serves him to ‘be nice’ with the West and to the part of public which has in its heart human rights and decent life. In few day will probably come something opposite, ie, something big for the conservative part of the public and ‘mother Russia’,” Miletic commented on his Facebook page.

Serbia managed to organise first gay Pride in September 2014 after numerous attempts were cancelled at the last moment due high security risks. Vucic, who was seen as the most important player in making it happen, did not participate in the event but ambassadors from Western countries took part.