More than 100 days after the 2020 parliamentary and local elections, Serbia chose its new government. Statistically, there are more women as ministers than ever in the new government: some of the new ministers are completely new whilst others have merely changed department. According to Bloomberg, the new Serbian cabinet is now among the most gender-balanced in the world: twenty-two minister departments, eleven of them now led by women, under the returning Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić. But this observation hides a much darker reality in Serbian politics – one of corruption and a poor human rights record for minority communities and the press.
Who are the new female ministers?
When it was announced that Gordana Čomić would be appointed as a government minister, many were surprised. Čomić, now the Minister of Human and Minority rights, had formerly been a member of the opposition party, the Democratic Party, for 30 years. While her party was continuing its boycott of Parliament, she broke ranks in February by attending a parliamentary session. Excluded from the Democratic Party, she then went on to run in the elections for United Democratic Serbia, gaining only 0,32 percent of the vote. An unlikely candidate for a cabinet minister.
Aside from Čomić, there are also Anđelka Atanasković, Irena Vujović, Maja Popović, Tatjana Matić, Marija Obradović, and Darija Kisić Tepavčević. Tepavčević is now the Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, as well as a member of the Crisis Team dealing with COVID-19.
Even with female representation increasing in the central government, the number of women is not particularly high when it comes to local governments, diplomatic corps, and security affairs, as reported by Tanja Ignjatović of the Autonomous Women’s Center in Belgrade. A more accurate summary of the gender balance in Serbian politics is the following: there are 174 municipalities in Serbia, and only 20 of them are led by women.
The uptake in female ministers has done little to solve the ongoing allegations of government corruption. Companies linked to the brother of cabinet minister Darija Kisić, who is also the husband of former Minister of Justice, Nela Kuburović, have gained more than twenty contracts with public companies worth 26,8 million euros. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s brother allegedly used his sister’s position in public office to increase profits for his company, Aseco.
First openly-gay Prime Minister but little hope for Serbia’s LGBT+ community
Ana Brnabić first became PM in 2017. She was the first openly-gay Prime Minister for Serbia, and also the first head of government in the region to attend pride parade. However, the rights of LGBT+ people in Serbia have barely improved under her leadership – while Brnabić and her partner have a child together, LGBT+ people in Serbia still cannot adopt children or even get married.
Back in 2019, Brnabić stated in an interview that she was not the LGBT+ Prime Minister of Serbia, but rather the Prime Minister of Serbia who is a member of the LGBT+ community.
“I am very aware of all the problems of the LGBT community in Serbia”, she told Blic, assuring she would nonetheless continue to work on improving the status of LGBT+ people in Serbia. To this day, nothing has improved for Serbia’s LGBT+ community.
Deteriorating freedom of press and government denial
Things have changed regarding freedom of press – for the worse. According to Reporters Without Borders, “after six years under the leadership of Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia has become a country where it is often dangerous to be a journalist and where fake news is gaining in visibility and popularity at an alarming rate”.
“Collusion between politicians and media, widespread government-tolerated fake news, and the mistreatment of a whistleblower, Aleksandar Obradović, also remain a great source of concern”, according to the RWB report.
Ana Brnabić has not commented on this report. Meanwhile, she has opposed remarks made by civil society and journalist organisations about the deteriorating freedom of press, claiming that freedom of the press in Serbia is better now than it was before she was Prime Minister.
So while the Serbian government boasts of a cabinet that is among the most gender-balanced in the world, it has little else to cheer about. More importantly, nor do the Serbian people.