Greece is in the throes of a crisis long rehearsed. Almost no aspect of it is new, from the location of Saturday's killing – the Exarcheia district of Athens has seen a thousand mock battles – to the impotence of politicians and impunity of police. What is new is the scale of the reaction; one death has concentrated the rage of a dysfunctional country and the result is chaos.
Thirty years after the end of its military dictatorship, the absence of any reconciliation of right and left has bestowed Greece with a political landscape littered with hostilities that few understand.
Rioters who know nothing of "anarchy" battle police who know nothing of the "fascism" with which they are taunted. Meanwhile, politics is dominated by the same dynasties – the Karamanlis family and the Papandreous. They dress as moderates and reformers while overseeing interests that are happy to use the mob, knowing that it will not disturb the deeper status quo.
Scandals break over conservative and socialist governments but never refresh the political class. It leaves a nation of hollow institutions, lacking legitimacy and held together through habit. In return, the citizens run amok, not paying taxes, destroying the environment, getting away with what they can. The black economy acted as a release for the accumulated pressure but now that can no longer cope either.
Long before the rest of the world was hit with the credit crunch, Greece was suffering its own sub-prime meltdown. Billions were spent on worthless prestige assets in the form of the 2004 Olympics and the country was practically bankrupted. Now the rest of Europe is in recession as well.
There is every reason for anger and just as in 1973, the streets are burning – but this time there is no unifying cause and no visible route to redemption.
The courts have failed to deliver justice and the police to afford protection. And elections are unlikely to offer any new solutions.
The writer was Athens correspondent of The Independent until 2004