The macho world of Balkan politics looks set to be shaken up by Ana Brnabic, an openly gay woman who has been nominated as Serbia's new prime minister.
President Aleksandar Vucic chose the western-educated Ms Brnabic (41) in a bold statement of Serbian support for the values of the European Union, but the move riled socially conservative nationalists who favour closer ties with Russia.
Ms Brnabic would be the first woman to run Serbia and the region's first openly gay leader. Experts question how much influence she could wield, however, given Mr Vucic's vast personal power and his pledge to give a major role to the experienced and more Kremlin-friendly Ivica Dacic, the leader of the Socialist party.
“I would like to thank the president for placing enormous trust in my capabilities to lead the government,” said Ms Brnabic who has sought to slash Serbia’s stifling bureaucracy as minister for public administration.
If approved by a parliament dominated by Mr Vucic’s populist Progressive Party, Ms Brnabic vowed to work “honestly and with passion” for “citizens who expect to feel the results of the government’s work through better quality of life.”
Before joining the cabinet last August, Ms Brnabic worked in the private sector and for non-governmental organisations, having studied at Northwood University in the United States and the University of Hull in England.
When Mr Vucic, who was then premier, brought her into government, Ms Brnabic said: “Hopefully this will blow over in three or four days, and then I won’t be known as the gay minister.”
“I believe Ana Brnabic has all the personal qualities and expertise,” Mr Vucic said on Thursday.
“I am confident she will work hard, show respect to political parties and work for the benefit of Serbia with other ministers.”
After a landslide election victory in April, Mr Vucic is expected to use the presidency to consolidate his domination of Serbian politics, while continuing to try to balance foreign relations between the EU and Russia.
Mr Vucic said he hoped the new government would stick with his policy of not joining western sanctions against Russia, and would strengthen “Serbia’s positions on the international scene, in both the west and the east”.
While Ms Brnabic may deflect criticism of Mr Vucic from liberal Serbs and western diplomats who see an authoritarian streak in him, her nomination angered nationalists with pro-Russian views and close ties to the Orthodox Church.
“Is it possible that the ruling majority has no other candidate for the prime minister-designate but one imposed by the West, which dictates all moves by this government?” the opposition Dveri party asked.
Far-right firebrand Vojislav Seselj told Russian state media outlet Sputnik that the West had "strongly pressured" Mr Vucic "and he demonstrated compliance".
Outspoken nationalist Dragan Markovic Palma, whose small party is a member of the ruling coalition, said recently that Serbia's new prime minister "should be a family man who knows what children are".
Upon hearing of Mr Vucic’s choice, he declared: “Ana Brnabic is not my prime minister.”