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President of Italy Sergio Mattarella during the private talks with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö, at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland on September 27, 2017. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Italian President Sergio Mattarella arrived for his first official state visit to the Presidential Palace on Wednesday morning. Mattarella, 76, is known for his lifelong mission to fight the Mafia, but in Finland, despite a few “good ol’ boys clubs” here and there, and a few savage motorcycle gangs making the headlines every now and then, Finns are most familiar with organized crime through Francis Ford Coppola’s historical trilogy of The Godfather. Finns love the director and his winery. There’s nothing like holding a glass of Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel while watching the stars dotting the sky while the autumn breeze is caressing your face . . . . At the palace, there was no sight of Coppola’s wine. We were served with sparkling water, which is fine. It keeps the sentences shorter.

President Mattarella arrived in Finland with his daughter Laura Mattarella. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

While the presidents were talking about political and economic relations between Finland and Italy, security policy questions, as well as other current international matters, I came across an article about the brutal incident that sparked President Mattarella’s political career over three decades ago.

In early January 1980 Mafia henchmen strode up to the car of his brother Piersanti, Sicily’s Christian Democratic governor at the time, as he was heading to Mass in Palermo with his family. Piersanti was shot eight times at close range and died in Sergio’s arms on the way to the hospital. “An assassin approached the car and shot him [my brother] despite the fact that the wife of my brother was trying to protect his head with her hands, and she was also wounded,” Mattarella said in an interview with the CNN.

President Mattarella and his daughter visit the Hietaniemi Cemetary to pay respect to war heroes of Finland. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

From that moment Mr Mattarella began to think about a career in public service and politics — with the goal of fighting the Mafia. “Because it is a cancer which is oppressive and which stifles everybody’s freedom,” Mattarella said in the interview.

President Mattarella is a practicing Catholic. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

While President Niinistö and his Italian counterpart don’t, perhaps, share the same need to root out organized crime, they, indeed, share the passion to fight terrorism. At the press conference, Mattarella expressed his condolences for the victims of the terror attack in Turku. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, Italy and Finland are of the same opinion. We need to develop new ways to fight terrorism in Europe and around the world,” Mattarella said. “We need to cooperate more closely and be more active than before in sharing information.”

Niinistö nodded.

According to Mattarella, the relations between Italy and Finland are “excellent.” Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

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