Ana Brnabić, 41, only entered politics last year, when then-PM Aleksandar Vučić made her minister of public administration. Prior to that she worked in alternative energy and U.S.-backed development projects.
“I believe that Brnabic has professional and personal qualities to be prime minister,” Vucic, who heads the Serbian Progressive Party, told reporters. “And that along with other ministers she will work on improvement and progress of our Serbia.”
Vučić will now become president, officially something of a ceremonial role, but expected to exert a great deal of control by naming Brnabić, who is loyal to him.
“I do not believe that Brnabić will lead or have an impact on foreign policy,” political scientist Boban Stojanović told The Guardian. “This will remain the exclusive domain of President Vučić.”
The nomination of a lesbian to high office will also aid Serbia’s efforts to join the EU. But in the largely conservative country, there is still opposition. “Ana Brnabic is not my prime minister,” Dragan Markovic-Palma of the Unified Serbia Party told Beta news agency. Markovic-Palma previously said he would never approve a PM who didn’t have at least two children.
Anti-gay rhetoric—and violence—is common in the former communist country: Homosexuality was officially labeled a mental illness until 2009, and nearly 70% of Serbians still believe it is. (More than half feel the government should “actively suppress homosexuality.”)
Fueled by nationalist groups and Serbia’s Christian Orthodox church, anti-gay rioters have frequently attacked Belgrade Pride, forcing the event’s cancelation on numerous occasions. Last year, a Christian group held a ceremony to “purify” the city after Pride.
Brnabić’s ascension is noteworthy, but whether it signals a sea change for Serbia’s troubling human rights record or just a whitewashing of it remains to be seen.