Female National Leaders around the World Part 4 - the Balkans

I want to emphasize that I am talking about national leaders here, heads of state and heads of government, who just happen to be female by association. The reason I am highlighting them is not to propose that there would be some kind of crucial difference between them and their male counterparts. The motives behind the series are curiosity and social conscience – female leaders are still rare around the world, and this fact exposes some fundamental defects in our social systems.

Now that we have made that clear, we can dive into our quest around the world and encounter the female leaders – both liberal and conservative – we are currently able to find. This time around we will stop at the Balkans in the Southeast Europe, precisely the states of Croatia and Serbia.


Ana Brnabić

 Serbia is a Balkan country with a long and complicated history. Under the communist rule during 1946‒1991, it used to form a state called Yugoslavia with five other Balkan countries. The Yugoslavia was wholly independent from the Soviet Union, but it nevertheless dissolved violently over ethnic and nationalist issues in the beginning of 1990s. During 1992‒2006 Serbia constituted a union together with Montenegro but has been the nation state of Serbia after Montenegro separated from the confederation in 2006.

Currently, Serbia is a parliamentary republic. The Prime minister is the head of Government and directs its work and submits the Government’s program to the National Assembly. The President proposes a candidate for the position of a Prime minister while seeking the consent of the Parliament. The current president, Aleksandar Vučić of the Serbian Progressive Party, proposed Ana Brnabić for the position in summer 2017.

Ana Brnabić of the centre-right Serbian Progressive Party is the first woman to hold a position of the Prime Minister of Serbia. She is also the first openly gay person to hold the office – something that is still by no means typical in Eastern Europe. She holds a high placement in many lists connected to this topic: She is the second female LGBT head of government, fifth openly LGBT head of government in the world, and the first openly gay prime minister whose partner has given birth while the PM was in office. This becomes all the more striking when paralleled with the fact that Serbia is a conservative country, where gay marriage and adoption are barred, and Gay Pride marches are constantly disturbed. The election of Brnabić can be seen as a part of Serbia’s efforts to re-evaluate its politics to move closer toward the European Union membership - but a lot more remains to be done. Read more about it for example here on the Independent.

Brnabić is a business woman who received her master’s degree in the United Kingdom. She has a strong list of experience within international organizations and the public sector in Serbia. She is number 21 on the Forbes’ list of The Most Powerful Women in Politics and Policy (as of 2018).


Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović

The Republic of Croatia is also a former part of the Yugoslavia that consequently fell apart for the ethnic, religious and political disagreements in the beginning of the 1990s. After its reclamation of independence in 1991, the Balkans were engulfed in a disastrous war. Thanks to its beautiful coastal scenery, however, Croatia has become a popular tourist destination, and is today a member of the European Union (as of 2013).

Croatia operates a parliamentary system where power is divided into legislative, executive and judiciary powers. The president is the head of state and is directly elected. The president, while in practice being second to the Prime Minister, who holds the most power in everyday politics, is also the commander in-chief of the military and represents Croatia abroad. While Croatia has had a female prime minister in the past (Jadranka Kosor held office 2009‒2011), Grabar-Kitarović is the first female to be elected as the president of Croatia since the multi-party elections in the independent state. She is also the youngest person to assume the post, born in 1968 and elected in 2015.

At the time of the election, Grabar-Kitarović was seen as a challenger from the opposition, as she was competing against the incumbent president Ivo Josipović. She won the election by a slender marginal. Grabar-Kitarovic is a member of the Croatian Democratic Union, and a political conservatist. Her victory can be read as a backlash by the people against a long-serving centre-left coalition which has failed to secure economic growth in a country long plagued by a recession. These feelings receive some response in the political position of Grabar-Kitarović, who has been described being not only a conservative, but also a nationalist (The New York Times January 11, 2015). Currently the Croatian Democratic Union also holds the position of the Prime Minister, but the PM Andrej Plenković is known for his moderate and pro-European views.

Next presidential elections will be held in December 2019. Read more about the last election for example here.


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