Friday 3 January 2020

El Pepe

This is a story that starts in the medieval Balkans with a priest called Bogomil, travels to recent Uruguay to visit a president called ‘El Pepe’ and concludes in today’s UK with a politician named Jeremy Corbyn. Over time and distance they are all linked.


Stay with me.


Bogomilism is thought to have originated from the teachings of a Macedonian priest named Bogomil, "beloved of God”. He called priests and nobles 'servants of the devil' and preached about the differences in life style between Jesus Christ and the wealthy.


Bogomil beliefs spread across the Balkans with their rejection of church dogma and the cruelties of the Old Testament. The Trinity was thought to be delusional and the cross a killing instrument. Material wealth was considered wicked as were formal religious and political institutions. 


Poor people followed Bogomil teachings, and their ideas spread to present-day Bosnia, Serbia, Italy and France. By the late 12th century it was the state religion in Bosnia and in 1222 the Pope declared a crusade against them.


The rising Ottoman empire to the south-east offered the 'Bogomils' protection and they converted to Islam. As a result Bogomilism survived and it is my view that their beliefs and practices continue to this day amongst those people in Bosnia Herzegovina who I consider to be my friends and family after living there before and after the wars in former Yugoslavia.


Last night on Netflix I watched ‘El Pepe: A Supreme Life’, Emir Kusturica’s film about José Alberto ‘Pepe’ Mujica Cordano, a Uruguayan politician who served as President of Uruguay from 2010-2015. He, with his wife Lucía Topolansky Saavedra, were former guerrillas with the Tupamaros at the time of the military dictatorship in the 70s and 80s and, for many years, both were imprisoned.


When elected President, ‘Pepe’ refused to reside in the presidential palace, preferring to live on a farm located off a dirt road. He gave away 90 percent of his salary to charity. Now aged 85 he has never had a bank account and still drives a 1987 Volkswagen. As to how he dresses: “The tie is a useless rag that constrains your neck. I’m an enemy of consumerism. Because of this hyperconsumerism, we’re forgetting about fundamental things and wasting human strength on frivolities that have little to do with human happiness.”


He stands up for the oppressed and marginalised and during his Presidency offered asylum to detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and shelter to Syrian children refugees. He supported women's rights and legalised abortion, gay marriage and marihuana.


We are products of our pasts” Pepe says, “but we all have a chance to mold a better future in the present. Never ever give up. Keep fighting. Anything is possible.”


I don’t need to repeat what I have written about Jeremy Corbyn in recent weeks except to say that he bears remarkable similarities to Pepe in his beliefs, practices and lifestyle.


Fortunately for him he has not had to share Pepe and Lucia’s fate of lengthy imprisonment, but has had to share the abuse and vilification from their respective establishments.


We can create a new kind of politics,” says Corbyn,“kinder, more respecful, but courageous too.”


True and both men are Bogomils.

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