Women in power is not what would first cross one’s mind in association with the Balkans – a traditional society where most important functions are still held by men. But change, albeit slow, is taking place and there are some ambitious females in the region that command quite a bit of power. Two of them were included on Forbes’ 100 most powerful women list. At the Adriatic Journal we looked at who are the Balkan women that stand out in this male-dominated region.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was Croatia’s first female president. She previously served her country in many other high-ranking positions, including as a diplomat and an assistant secretary general for public diplomacy at NATO. At the age of 46, she was elected Croatia’s president on January 11, 2015, becoming the country’s not only the first female president but also its youngest. She was also the first woman in Europe to defeat an incumbent president running for re-election, while she is the second woman in the world to do so, after Violetta Chamorro of Nicaragua in 1990. In 2017, Grabar-Kitarović was named as one of the 39th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. She won the hearts of many after the 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia, where she attended the quarter-final and final matches, reportedly travelling to Russia at her own expense in economy class and watched the games from the non-VIP stands. According to the analytics company Mediatoolkit, she was the “country’s star of the tournament” with “25% more focus on her in news stories about the final than any of the players on the pitch.”
Melania Trump is the current first lady of the United States, as wife of 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump. She is only the second US First Lady to be born outside the US. Born in Slovenia’s Novo Mesto, Melania Knavs started modelling at the age of 5. She moved to America in 1996, where she continued to work as a model. She forged a succesful career and is known for her appearances in Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and GQ.
She also posed nude for magazines, including a British GQ photo spread in 2000. In September 1998, Knauss met Donald Trump at a party and the couple married in 2005. In 2006 she gave birth to her only child Barron. In addition to her modelling career, Trump was also a businesswoman who launched a jewellery line in 2010 and a caviar-based skincare line in 2013. In 2017, she became the First Lady of the United States. Since moving to the White House, she has devoted her time to promoting the public awareness campaign Be Best that focuses on well-being for youth and advocates against cyberbullying and drug use.
Ana Brnabić is the Serbian Prime Minister, the first woman and LGBTQ person in Serbia to hold such position. Brnabić attracted attention of the Serbian public in August 2016 when the then Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić revealed he knew of her sexual orientation when he nominated her for the minister of public administration and local self-government.
After Vučić resigned as Prime Minister in 2017 to become president, he made Brnabić the new Prime Minister, the post she still holds today. In 2019 Brnabić became a parent after her partner Milica Djurdjič gave birth to a boy. She is believed to be the first prime minister in a same-sex couple whose partner gave birth while the prime minister was in office. Brnabić is the fifth openly LGBT head of government in the world, and the second female LGBT head of government overall. In 2019, Forbes 100 most powerful women list ranked Brnabić at 88th place.
Tanja Skaza is a co-owner of the family-owned company Plastika Skaza, which manufactures innovative and sustainable products made from recycled and bio plastics that are kind to the environment. In 2018 Velenje-based company surpassed EUR 40m in total revenue for the first time in its more than 40-year history.
Today, Skaza boasts the flattering title of Best European Manager, which she received for an almost impossible achievement – in 2008 she pulled Plastika Skaza out of the crisis and placed it among the five fastest growing tech companies in Central Europe. The company is now well known for quality and innovative products, which are also found in internationally renowned multinationals such as Ikea, Gorenje, Landis & Gyr, and ABB. She has recently left the director position at the company and will continue her business journey within the framework of her own Skaza Institute where she wants to devote herself to inspiring people.
Iza Login came to prominence after co-creating the Talking Tom mobile app. She founded the company Outfit7 with her husband Samo. Since selling the company in 2017 to a Chinese group, the couple have continuously topped the Slovenian rich list. After selling the talking cat, Login did not rest on her laurels, but together with her husband and children founded a new company, the Liechtenstein-based Login5 Foundation, which focuses on developing solutions for humanity’s problems across the globe (using the slogan Clean Air. Clean Water. Clean Consciousness.).
Login is also the director of Matea Benedetti Limited, an ethical and sustainable fashion brand associated with the concept of beauty, luxury and innovation. The Login couple are major philanthropists and regularly pay back to society. They support the initiative the Giving Pledge, where they invest the majority of their time and resources in non-profit environmental projects.
Tea Obreht, a successful American author, has true Yugoslav roots, having been born in Serbia to a single mother whose parents are of Slovene and Bosniak origin. Her father, who did not take part in her upbringing, was a Bosniak, too. After graduating from the University of Southern California, Obreht received a MFA in fiction from the creative writing program at Cornell University in 2009. The Tiger’s Wife, her debut novel, won the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a 2011 National Book Award finalist. Obreht was named as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under 40 by The New Yorker. Inland, her second novel, was released in 2019.
Roksanda Ilinčić is a Serbian designer whose creations have been worn by some of the most beautiful women in the world, including the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, Michelle Obama, Cate Blanchett, Emily Blunt, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kiera Knightley and even Melania Trump. Ilinčić set up her own label in 2003 and debuted at London Fashion Week in 2005 with a small collection of dresses. She has since become a staple on the fashion show and has added swimwear, childrenswear, handbags, jewellery and sunglasses to her eclectic collection. For her designs she has also won numerous awards including the British Designer of the Year at Elle Style Awards in 2016;. Business Woman of the Year at the Harper’s Bazaar UK Women of the Year Awards in 2014; the Red Carpet Designer award at the British Elle Style Awards in 2013 and in 2012 the Red Carpet Award at the British Fashion Awards.
Nataša Čagalj is one of the most prominent Slovenian fashion designers, who has been pushing the boundaries of prestigious fashion houses such as Cerruti, Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Ports 1961. The fashion designer Peter Movrin said Čagalj is not only a big name in the world of fashion, it is also the heart that everyone wants to have in their studios. Čagalj enjoyed creating from a young age: she sent her first sketches of fashion dresses to the Croatian magazine Svijet at the end of primary school. Her big ambition was to attend postgraduate studies at Central St Martin’s College in London and she credits her husband for helping her fulfil that wish.
She was considered one of the best female students at the school that taught the likes of Alexander Mc- Queen, John Galliano and others. All her qualities – precision workmanship, sophistication and careful design of details as well as perseverance, focus and, above all, teamwork ability – have been recognized by the world-renowned fashion houses such as Cerutti, Lanvin, and Stella McCartney, as well as Ports 1961, the Canadian luxury fashion brand, where she was a creative director for five years. She has recently left the company and is working on setting up her own brand.
From humble roots as a Kosovo refugee in London to being one of the biggest pop stars in the world, Rita Ora has come a long way. Rita Sahatçiu Ora rose to fame in 2012 when she featured in a single Hot Right Now by DJ Fresh – the single reached number one in the United Kingdom. Her debut album Ora was released in August 2012 and debuted at the top of the UK Albums Chart. The accolades followed. Ora was nominated for Best New Artist, Push Artist and Best UK/Ireland Act at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards.
After a string of UK hits in 2014 and early 2015, Ora wanted to be released from her contract with the Roc Nation and ended up filing a lawsuit against the label. Roc Nation filed a counter-lawsuit against Ora for breaking her recording contract, but the two sides reached a settlement in May 2016. Later that year she performed in a concert at the vigil for Mother Teresa’s canonisation at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, alongside other Albanian artists, accompanied by the Kosovo Philharmonic Orchestra.
The London native Dua Lipa started her musical career by posting covers of her favourite songs on Youtube before hitting the big time. Dua Lipa, whose first name means love in Albanian, was born in London to Kosovo Albanian parents. She signed with Warner Music Group in 2015 and soon released her first single New Love. Ever since then she’s been a prominent chart topper. Her success was further confirmed by winning three Brit Awards and two Grammy Awards. But, like her fellow chart topper Rita Ora, Lipa hasn’t forgotten her roots. In 2016, she and her father set up the Sunny Hill Foundation in Prishtina to donate to the causes that will benefit the citizens of Kosovo. When the earthquake struck Albania in late 2019, Lipa appealed to her fans for support and donations to help the relief effort.
Marina Abramović is a performance artist known for her use of pain and physical limits as a form of expression. Even after four decades in the “business”, she still continues to create new work, exploring the relationship between herself and her audience, and transforming both through her performances. Born in Belgrade in 1946, Abramović went on to study art both in her hometown and in Zagreb, developing an early interest in performance art, including experiments with sound installations. Her arguably most provocative work, however, is 1974’s Rhythm 0, a performance in the Italian city of Naples in which Abramović directed the audience: “There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.”
” The objects included razor blades, knives and a loaded gun, while the artist sat motionless as people cut open her clothes or slashed her skin. “If you leave it up to the audience, they can kill,” Abramović said after the performance of an inherent human cruelty that she sought to expose. In 2010, her popular retrospective The Artist is Present was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art. The work was inspired by her belief that stretching the length of a performance beyond expectations serves to alter our perception of time and foster a deeper engagement in the experience. Seated silently at a wooden table across from an empty chair, she waited as people took turns sitting in the chair and locking eyes with her. Over the course of nearly three months, for eight hours a day, she met the gaze of 1,000 strangers, many of whom were moved to tears.
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