Ana Brnabic is making waves. She is one of six new ministers in the Serbian government, but has been getting all the public attention, as she is poised to become the first openly gay minister to serve in any Balkan country.
The 40-year-old Brnabic speaks English and Russian. She was educated in the United States and United Kingdom. An expert in public administration, she established the National Alliance for Local Economic Development (NALED) in 2006. Until her appointment to the Serbian government she served as the president of the executive board of NALED. Thanks to her position at NALED, she worked as a coordinator of the USAID program for the economic development of local communities in Serbia, which meant that she worked closely with the government. In 2013, she was declared businesswoman of the year in Serbia.
She has made headlines around the world, however, as she prepares to be sworn in this week as the first openly gay minister in Serbia. She has no party affiliation. This is just one out of many tweets saluting the decision to appoint Brnabic:
Speaking to reporters during a parliamentary recess on August 9, Brnabic expressed hopes that the public attention would eventually fade after she is sworn in.
"Hopefully this will blow over in three or four days and then I won't be known as 'the gay minister.' I'll be known as the minister of public administration and local government," she told reporters.
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who made the appointment, is being singled out for praise by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Serbia.
According to the Belgrade based Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), choosing Brnabic as a minister is historic because it raises the hope that Serbia can become a society in which everyone has equal opportunity. "It's important to recognize the skills and qualities of people in high positions regardless of their sexual orientation," the GSA said in a statement.
Among the first to react was Boris Milicevic, the first LGBT activist to enter politics in Serbia. He is a high-level official in the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the junior partner of Prime Minister Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in the new government. He sees the Brnabic appointment as important for the entire LGBT community.
"I hope that the prime minister's decision will encourage more LGBT people to take part in politics, as well as encourage many who already hold positions in the government to come out," Milicevic said.
Serbia is still struggling to become a more inclusive society. Homophobia is widespread, as in any Balkan society. Belgrade has been under pressure since the start of its EU-accession talks to improve its protection of minorities, including the LGBT community.
Memories of the violence surrounding the 2010 Pride Parade are still fresh. Hard-line nationalists and radicals attacked participants and clashed with police, wounding 150 people. Because of security concerns, the parade was cancelled for the next three years. Last year, the Pride Parade went ahead without incident, although there were more police officers than members of the LGBT community in the streets.
There are still many influential voices preaching discrimination. When Serbia was hit by heavy floods in the summer of 2014, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej proclaimed the disaster a clear warning from God just as Belgrade was getting ready to host another pride parade, which in the Patriarch's view was "something that is against God and the law of nature."
Asked about the Brnabic appointment, Vucic claimed that he was simply being faithful to his promise to put together a government that would deliver results.
"Her personal choices do not interest me, she is welcome in the Serbian government", the prime minister told a press conference on August 9. "I told her that what interests me is the work that she can do."
He had at least one more surprise for journalists and the public, promising that he will be more open to criticism in his second term in the office. Are these signs that we can expect to see a new Vucic?