In the seventh analysis of media coverage of LGBTI topics, which is published annually by the Sarajevo Open Center, we devote the following section to the texts that show in paradigmatic way the relation of the media to the three great topics of everyday life – politics, culture and activism.
The first part gives an overview of media reports related to Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and how the fact that for the first time in this political position is a woman, who is also a lesbian, is articulated in the public through the media. The second part is related to the writings about International Queer Film Festival Merlinka in Sarajevo and how well-led promotion of the festival creates the attitude of the media towards this cultural event of “high risk”, as the police still mark it. The third part concerns with the reporting on the prohibition of marking of International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia in the public space and answering the question of who still fears the parade. The second and the third part are going to be published in the next two days.
Written by: Lejla Huremović and Jasmina Čaušević
“Silent horror” or a woman, a lesbian, a prime minister
The first female Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić is the fifth person at the prime minister’s position in the world who came out of the closet. The first lesbian prime minister was Jouhana Sigurdardoutir, the Prime Minister of Iceland (2009-2013). The second was Prime Minister of Belgium Elio di Rupo (2011-2014). Currently, two current prime ministers have publicly expressed themselves as gay men – Luxembourg Prime Minister Javier Betel and Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar.
If only this fact is taken into account, without reminding on a daily violence, the impunity of this violence, the necessity of supplementing the existing laws in order to try to protect the rights of the LGBTI people, it is expected to raise the question – how is it possible for a lesbian to lead the Government of Serbia.
The relationship of power between men and women in politics, especially women in leading positions, is at a low level throughout the region, although we are witnessing slow changes. The increase in the number of women in politics is conditioned by different processes of accession to the European Union, but also the quotas that exist to regulate gender equality in the workplace. Ana Brnabić became the first woman in executive power in Serbia, which is a great success for women, but also for all LGBTI people who can have their voice through her. However, political feminist understandings offer far deeper insights into the whole situation than those we read in the mainstream media, and so Jelena Višnjić, founder of the BeFem feminist cultural center for the Vox Feminae portal, points out: “The case of Minister Ana Brnabić once again showed how the body of a woman, a lesbian woman is instrumentalized and fetishized to show the real weakness of society. In this case, Minister publicly coming out was used as a tabloid sensation, a quasi-emancipatory act to blur the fact that, after four months, we got an identical and incompetent government. For me, the key question is in what kind of government we are getting the first female prime minister, publicly declared lesbian, and whether this government has on its political agenda to improve the position of the LGBT community and other minority and discriminated groups. The public and media treatment of future work of Minister Brnabić is easily predictable and will be a product of the crossing of homophobia, misogyny and sexism, because they are positioned within the social order mapped by economic, cultural, political relations of neoliberal, patriarchal and heteronormative domination”.
The queer activists’ thoughts move in several directions. There are those who consider the appointment of Ana Brnabić as a part of the new government as an example of pink washing, such as the writer Dragoslava Barzut, who for the portal Vox Feminae says: “The farcical politics of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, which advocates the option: neither left nor right, but better, although funny, it is not naive, it is, on the contrary, very dangerous, and even, I dare to say, leads straight to fascism. An image of respecting human rights, advocating for the same opportunities, equality and everything that orientates Serbia as a future EU member is being presented. On the other hand, internally, things are extremely opposite. This is not a question of supporting a lesbian in the Government of the Republic of Serbia, but rather the question of supporting those who are implementing a systemic inequality under the guise of equality”.
For the same portal and in the same text, an activist and director of the International Queer Film Festival Merlinka, Predrag Azdejković, says: “I politically decided to look at this move only as positive, because we have, let’s call it, a historical moment. Although we have had gay ministers so far, this is the first time that we have a publicly declared LGBT person in a high state function. This is a positive thing and I would not pick holes in it, although many believe that it was not nice that Vučić said she is gay, why he said gay, why did not he say lesbian, she is in the ministry that cannot directly help the LGBT population (which is not true) … Ana Brnabić will be attacked twice as much as the other ministers just because she is a lesbian and if we, as an LGBT community cannot support her and we decide to criticize her although she has not even begun to work, then something is wrong with us. Now the ball is with the activists in a sense of how much will they use her position to lobby for certain legal changes, how much will they use the fact that we have a lesbian in the government to reduce homophobia in society and increase visibility, how much will they make her an ally in the struggle to improve the position of LGBT people in Serbia … Taking into account the capacity of LGBT activists in Serbia, I am afraid that there will not be too much success”.
Unfortunately, such analytical and carefully articulated attitudes about the political context in which the Prime Minister is a lesbian, and her position when it comes to power (weakness) to lead the government of a country and what all of that means specifically for the promotion of the rights of LGBTI people and gender equality can rarely be read in the media we were following. Out of 22 newspaper articles on Ana Brnabić that we have singled out, half of them deal with the Croatian roots of the Prime Minister, her house on one island in Croatia, and the issue of since when the Brnabić family is mentioned in Stara Baška while the other half passes on polemicizing in the public about her sexual orientation.
However, one of the most complete texts on this topic is the travelogue text of author Edi Jurković for Jutarnji List from June 10th. Although the author in the text with sensationalist title, and even more sensationalist sub-titles – The Unknown Croatian Connections of the Most Famous Serbian Gay Politician – devotes part of the text to the listing of what the Brnabić family owns and describes how Ana was right in her home on Krk when Vučić called her and told her she enters the government, it answers the important questions – it passes on in detail her biography, education, professional experience, awards, quotes her statements given to other media about what it means to her or the public that she is a lesbian, how much she talked about her sexual orientation with Vučić and why she decided to work with Vučić, even though they are ideologically and politically different. The entire text shows the citizens of Stara Baška as protective and friendly towards their fellow citizen.
Jutarnji List more frequently and more analytically than other media dealt with the Serbian Prime Minister, not missing the opportunity to highlight in every text the Croatian genes of the woman who is a head of the Serbian government. In the text of June 17th, the author Vlado Vurušić summarizes the whole situation in one point: “But, on the other hand, Aleksandar Vučić actually sends a message on the inner plan – I can do everything, even to set up a person, which by two criteria, national and sexual, provokes a silent horror in a good part of the Serbs – as a prime minister”.
Media texts mostly pass on only the views of the right-wingers in Serbia. In this text, the views of all sides are given. From the questions of right-winger Boško Obradović: “Is this the choice of Vučić or the West?! Do the Croatian and homosexual lobby in this way have an influential role?” Or the argument of Dragan Marković Palma: “She is not a host, she does not have any children or international contacts”. There are also liberal view like the restrained position of Čedomir Jovanović: “It is necessary to see what difference will be made between Moscow and Brussels”. In addition, there is a presence of philosophical and leftist attitude of Serbian woman Turajlić: “For days, I was ashamed for a person who would accept this type of humiliation. It is sad for such a young person”.
In June, both Jutarnji List and Večernji List published texts on a daily basis about the turmoil on the Serbian political scene, focusing on the political power games of Aleksandar Vučić and the role of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić in the whole story.
When it comes to the language, it is noticeable that instead of “coming out”, the term “publicly admitted” is used, which has a dose of incorrectness since it is offensive because the word “admit” is associated with the recognition of a bad deed.
On June 25th, Euro Blic published the text of the author Ivana Mastilović Jasnić, which gives an overview of the opinion of people from public life of Serbia about Prime Minister Brnabić, where the focus is either on her expertise or on her sexual orientation. The text is professionally intensified, and we welcome the initial position of the author of the text, which was singled out at the beginning: “Ana Brnabić has indisputable human and professional qualities. The first female Prime Minister of Serbia is also the first politician who has publicly acknowledged gay sexual orientation, which bothers many…” However, the style of the text is gender insensitive and does not use the correct terminology when it comes to LGBTI topics. This text is an excellent example of how important the form is, because content – really skillfully written and in line with professional imperatives – is written in a bad style.
Večernji list of June 29th, 2017 brings the text of Branimir Bradarić entitled “Ana’s Serbia for the 21st Century”. This is an example of a completely correct text that deals with political and professional career of Ana Brnabić, her views on certain issues of Serbian politics, and her mandate program. A few days later, on July 2nd, the same newspaper in the article “Stara Baška has a Prime Minister” publishes the text on three sides, again, about the Croatian roots of the Serbian Prime Minister, her grandfather, her family who has been living on the island of Krk for over 300 years, friends and neighbors who have only words of praise for Ana.
Nezavisne novine, on July 1st, published a completely correct article about the first days of the Serbian Prime Minister, reported some of her statements (after taking the oath, she said that Serbia has no time to lose), statements by her fellow politicians who support her mandate, how she presided over the first session, etc. The text exclusively deals with her as a political figure and only once mentions that she is a member of the LGBT community.
If we had to summarize all the media coverage that we were following about the new Prime Minister of Serbia – her expertise, experience, education and other qualities are mentioned in only a few texts. In all others, either a polemicizing tone is introduced through the statements of the interlocutors mostly about her sexual orientation from the right side of the ideological spectrum, or is written extensively about Ana’s Croat ancestors from the island of Krk.
The future Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, was publicly exposed by her proposer Aleksandar Vučić at a press conference, doing what is not allowed in activism – to expose others. The position of power of the person who holds the mandate from which he gives himself the right to publicly expose Ana Brnabić is a disputable move and as such leaves a lot of room for analysis and criticism. The question is: When private becomes public and who can speak on behalf of the other? This political event is seen in the region and the world as very positive while the activists of the LGBTI community also, in the majority, have very positively rated this change in power relations even though approaching the whole situation with a dose of reservation and wonder. However, it is clear – the new Serbian government will not work to improve the rights of LGBTI people, because at the very beginning of its work, and on the remark of one right-wing member of the parliament that LGBT rights are more important to the new government than family and birthrate, Aleksandar Vučić responded in a homophobic and despotic way that he does not have the intention to legalize homosexual marriages. The most important notice when it comes to the language of media coverage is that the word lesbian is completely avoided. The Prime Minister is certainly labeled with the words – a homosexual orientation, a homosexual, a gay minister, a member of the LGBT population – just not with a precise word, such as a lesbian.