The plan to hold Albania's first multiparty election in more than 60 years has let loose a powerful tide of emotion, drowning out debate beyond the key question: are you for communism or democracy?
When Gramoz Pashko, a leader of the opposition Democratic Party, took the podium at his final election rally in the Adriatic port of Vlora on Thursday, thousands of young people surged forward.They chanted "Freedom, Democracy!" and hurled chocolate bars and flowers as a sign of affection. They vied, seemingly demented, for the prize of scrambling onstage to embrace their hero, a 35-year-old economist.
As at several other opposition rallies, the actual speeches seemed to matter little. The young people simply wanted to give sway to teenage exuberance and frustration at their miserable existence in Europe's poorest land.
Behind the podium, a different emotion surged from 67-year-old Venbiqjou Hamzaraj. Finding a foreign visitor and conversing in perfect French, he vented pent-up anger at 46 years of harsh Stalinist rule.
"You don't know what Communism is," he said. "Dante wrote the `Inferno,' but the real inferno was here in Albania. Nobody knows what tortures we suffered."
Hamzaraj was imprisoned for 10 years in 1946 after a friend was arrested, tortured and gave names of acquaintances to the police.
The experience gave him a lasting mistrust of Communists, including President Ramiz Alia and other leaders who now say Sunday's election is fair and free, though they still wield power and dominate the media.
" all the people who died in there (jail), they broke their arms, tortured them," said Hamzaraj of his jailers. "These are no people; they are ferocious beasts."
Buoyant Democratic Party leaders exude confidence they can ride this anti-Communist wave to victory Sunday.