Serbia looks toward modernization with its likely first female prime minister

Ana Brnabic wants to 'move boundaries' as future prime minister of Serbia if confirmed this week, which could include bringing the nation out from the shadow of Russia's influence. 

Marko Djurica/AP
Serbia's Prime Minister designate Ana Brnabic smiles during a parliament session in Belgrade, Serbia, on June 28, 2017.

Serbia's prime minister designate said Wednesday her future government's goal is membership in the European Union along with modernization of the troubled Balkan country.

Ana Brnabic told Serbian parliament that the government will lead a "balanced" foreign policy, seeking good relations with Russia, China, and the United States.

Lawmakers are expected to vote her government into office later this week. If confirmed, Ms. Brnabic will become Serbia's first ever female and openly gay prime minister.

"The time before us will show how brave we are to move boundaries," Brnabic said in her speech. "Now is the moment to make a step forward and take our society, country, and economy into the 21st century."

She warned that "if we don't take that chance, we can hardly count on another one again."

When President Aleksandar Vucic nominated the US – and Britain – educated Brnabic to succeed him as prime minister earlier this month, it was seen as an attempt to calm Western concerns that Serbia was getting too close to Russia despite its proclaimed goal of joining the EU.

Her government retains most ministers from Mr. Vucic's Cabinet, including some hard-line pro-Russia officials such as new Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin. This has raised fears that Serbia will remain under strong Russian influence despite Brnabic's pro-Western record.

Liberal lawmaker Cedomir Jovanovic said during the parliamentary debate that the proposed government was the result of Russian pressure.

"What is the political context of your government if Aleksandar Vulin is the defense minister?" Mr. Jovanovic asked, describing the nomination of the anti-NATO defense minister as a "clear provocation" by Moscow. "If you nominate him, you know what that means."

Brnabic dismissed the allegations, insisting that "no one in the government represents the interests of any other country but Serbia."

In her speech, Brnabic made no mention of the growing military cooperation with Russia under Vucic, but said her government will continue to participate in the EU and United Nations global missions and maintain cooperation with NATO.

Brnabic insisted that "all this is confirmed in our strategic orientation toward the European Union, which represents the values that we stand for."

"That is the place where Serbia should be," Brnabic said.

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