A precious friend

Ten days have gone by since the death of Matija, and I am still having trouble facing up to the fact. I wanted to write something, but the words would not come. As if writing about the fact that he was no longer with us would force me to admit that it was true.

I believe I first met Matija in 2015, when he came to the EFIP assembly, together with Karla Andric. Until then, the EFIP, with some rare exceptions, was a collection of men dressed in suits, getting along in years, decidedly formal. The day the Croats joined us, they brought a breath of fresh air. We all smiled at them, gladly welcoming these new additions, though with the air of paternalism with which older generations gaze upon young arrivals to whom they plan to pass on their wisdom and knowledge.

Even I unconsciously treated Matija as a “youngster”. He was almost 20 years younger than me. He came from a young association that had been founded only recently, in a young democracy.

But I had it all wrong! Matija brought a smile to the EFIP, along with actual connections (to flesh and blood individuals and not just social network acquaintances) to countless people throughout Europe, as well as a multitude of movements and co-working networks. He brought an aptitude for working in groups, and for never badmouthing anybody. He was always looking for a way to be constructive, without any petty manoeuvring. He displayed a certain impatience with pointless formalities. The two of us hit it off from the start, combining to form what amounted to a  ‘Mediterranean wing’ of the EFIP, with an emphasis on practical initiatives, hands-on activities on the local level. Together with Joel, a friend from the German association, we organised the European Freelancers Week, an effort into which Matija poured an incredible amount of energy.

We travelled together to a number of meetings. He stayed as a guest at my house. And what always stood out was the astonishing number of people whom Matija knew – not just semi-anonymously, ‘virtually’ – but people whom he had met, and on whom he had made an impression. When he came to Rome, my city, for an Acta convention, he asked if I knew “Tommaso Spagnoli”. I said no, and so he took me to meet Tommaso, who had a large co-working space meant primarily for makers. And that was just one example, for Matija had friends wherever he went. And he always did his best to introduce them to each other, given that for him the concept of the sharing economy, of networking, was not simply a theory or a framework, but a way of life.  If he saw a fellow association member who was devoting too much energy to the group, at the expense of his or her personal work, or simply becoming too tired, Matija would worry for that person, even though he himself was unstinting in his efforts, always working on a thousand and one things at a time.

Last year we organised the EFIP assembly in Zagreb. In the meantime, Matija had fallen ill. I wanted to go see him, but he was not feeling up to it. I was able to embrace Marija. I could not bring myself to tour Zagreb. For me Zagreb was Matija, and we agreed that I would come back when he was better, so that he could take me around the city.

Meanwhile, 8 months ago, I was diagnosed with a tumour of the pancreas. At first, I could not bring myself to tell Matija, wishing to spare him the bad news. But then I wrote to let him know, seeing that his smile, the way he fought back, his ability to always think of others, no matter what, gave me no small amount of strength during the months of treatment. Matija helped me carry on, and I was hoping that he would make it through the worst of his troubles as well.

The last time I wrote him just happened to be August 26th, around 1:30 pm, to let him know that I was turning the corner, that the chemotherapy had worked, that I was getting used to the idea of my tumour being a chronic condition. That it was better to live fighting the tumour than to die from it…. I was writing this and he was dying….This phrase will be printed in mind, so that I never forget it whenever I feel like complaining.

Matija was someone who truly made a difference, one of a select few (and far from saying this simply because he has passed away, it was how I spoke of him from the moment we met). He was someone who lived every moment of his life, always with a smile, making the most of every occasion for human relations, constantly creating and imagining something new: he was somebody who truly belonged on this earth. Which makes it that much harder to come to grips with his death.

(thank you to Bill Lee for the translation into English)

– Francesca Pesce

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