BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbian lawmakers elected Ana Brnabic as prime minister on Thursday, making history by choosing both the conservative Balkan nation’s first female prime minister and its first openly gay leader.
Parliament voted 157-55 to approve the government of the 41-year-old Brnabic and she and her ministers were sworn in.
Serbia’s powerful President Aleksandar Vucic nominated the Western-educated Brnabic for the post two weeks ago amid opposition from hard-line nationalists. Gays have regularly faced harassment and attacks in Serbia.
Vucic’s move was widely seen as an attempt to calm Western concerns that Serbia is getting too close to Russia, including having enhanced military cooperation and ties, despite its proclaimed goal of joining the European Union.
Brnabic has said Serbia’s EU integration will be a priority along with maintaining good relations with Russia, China and the United States. But her government includes openly anti-Western ministers who are staunchly against joining the EU.
Vucic is likely to remain the country’s main leader. He has faced accusations of imposing an autocratic rule by muzzling free speech and media freedoms.
Brnabic, a business marketing expert who previously served in Vucic’s government as the local administration minister, has no party affiliation and has a record of working in the non-government sector, including with USAID.
During the two-day parliamentary debate, nationalist lawmakers accused Brnabic of being installed under Western pressure.
Brnabic dismissed their accusations that she is a “Western spy.”
“That is an insult for the Republic of Serbia and all its citizens,” Brnabic said Thursday. “Do you think the Serbian state is so ridiculous that no security services would react?”
Brnabic also promised “full continuity” with Vucic’s previous government, which has been playing a delicate balancing act between Russia and the West.
Brnabic has joined a handful of other openly gay leaders in Europe. Earlier this month, Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister.