Serbian LGBTI organisations give mixed response to election of Ana Brnabić as Prime Minister

by Amarildo Fecanji 

Belgrade 16 June 2017 - The appointment of 41-year-old Ana Brnabić as Prime Minister of Serbia has garnered huge international attention in the last 24 hours. The reasons being very obvious: she is the first female to take this important position and – maybe the biggest news - she is lesbian.

This sense of surprise by the international community is mostly justified, when we think that Serbia is rightly perceived as highly homophobic and intolerant towards LGBTI minorities. In comparison -  for instance to the wider European region - all Western Balkan countries, are much less tolerant and accepting of LGBTI minorities. Serbia is no exception.

While it is still unclear whether her appointment will make any significant shifts in public attitudes towards LGBTI people – and whether that shift will be positive or negative - most Serbian LGBTI organizations and human rights activists have been cautious in expressing any unnecessary enthusiasm.

In a statement for ERA, Goran Miletić from Belgrade Pride does not expect any significant changes “as she already tried to minimize the fact that she is a lesbian [while acting as Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government until a few days ago] and that she was never outspoken about that part of her identity. She will underline her qualities as an individual but not as belonging to the LGBTI community”. On a positive note, however, he argues that “she did a couple of changes relevant to the LGBTI community while she was a minister so I expect that she might help with some pending laws”.

In an assessment of newspaper headlines on the morning of June 16th, Miletić also argues that – unlike the assessment of the international community - the local media put huge emphasis on her female identity, while mostly ignoring her lesbian identity. He thinks that this is a clear sign of homophobia from the media establishment, which “for sure will know how to use her lesbian identity when time to criticize the government comes.”

In a statement for ERA, trans organisation Gayten-LGBT "does not expect a great improvement in LGBTIQ people's position by the simple fact that the new Prime Minister is member of the community - especially having in mind not only the clearly defined mandate but rather the fact that Ms. Brnabić never expressed any identity politics action. Since joining the government last year as Minister for State Govermnet and Local Self-Government Ms Brnabić has tried to place the focus on her qualifications rather than her sexual orientation, asking "why does it matter"? showing a lack of understanding of identity politics. On accepting the nomination to become Prime Minister, she said she would be working on goals 'that are bigger and more important than all of us individually". In that way, Gayten expects Ms. Brnabic to work towards better treatment of all minorities and vulnerable social groups in Serbia."

Also today long-established lesbian organization Labris, argued that “a lesbian at the head of government does not mean Serbia is automatically a country where the human rights of LGBTI people are respected, were we are safe and secure… Serbia is still a country where LGBTI people suffer public condemnation and assaults, are deprived of many human rights, and where there is a lack of implementation of the legal framework”

In a statement for ERA, association Da Se Zna! argued more assertively that “the election of Ana Brnabić as Prime Minister will serve mostly as a PR tool for the newly elected Serbian president which can lead to the wrong assumption that human rights in Serbia have been improved.” They argue, however, that “plenty of opportunities may arise for the LGBTI community in Serbia from having a lesbian Prime Minster, particularly because the general public – which is predominantly homophobic – will be able to see an openly LGBTI person outside of everyday activism which might reduce the wide spread social distancing from LGBTI people”

Newly established Belgrade based intersex association XY Spectrum argue that “while it is great that a female and lesbian is elected as Prime Minister, we wonder whether she will work at all for the LGBTI community and whether she intends to take any affirmative actions for our rights.” In their opinion while this might be a good political move, they wonder whether this will have any meaningful impact on the community. More importantly XY Spectrum representatives argue that “from her new position she should work proactively for all minorities and not just LGBTI.”

ERA’s Executive Co-Director Dragana Todorović concluded that “from the perspective of political participation of women in general – and even more particularly of lesbian women and LGBTI people – the election of Ana Brnabić is of course a significant step, and could have a positive impact on how society views LGBTI persons, with the potential of decreasing homophobia, lesbophobia and social distance. On the other hand, however, we are faced with the fact that the party she has been appointed from has a negative record when it comes to human and minority rights or the promotion of democracy overall in the country. The political party that Ana Brnabić represents has also been ambivalent on their position towards LGBTI rights with many important needs and demands of the LGBTI community not having been fulfilled. As such we hope and expect that in this new position Ms. Brnabić and the government overall will have a firmer position on the advancement of the rights of LGBTI people in Serbia”.

For very clear reasons LGBTI organizations in Serbia, expect more proactive steps by the newly elected Prime Minister and her government before expressing any un-necessary enthusiasm. In their statement Labris for example were also very clear of the community’s demand: they “hope that during her term, Ana Brnabić will support the new legislative initiatives such as the Draft-Law on Registration of same-sex partnerships” which has been presented as draft-law to the Serbian government since 2010. Gayten-LGBT makes a very clear point when stating also that "with careful distance when it comes to the opposite values and political attitudes between the ruling party and Gayten-LGBT, as well as the possibility of the pink-washing phenomenon, we still see positively to the fact that Ms. Brnabic will join a small number of gay and lesbian prime ministers to lead governments in Europe, including Leo Varadkar in the Republic of Ireland, Xavier Bettel in Luxemburg and Johanna Sigurdardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland during 2009-2013."