Nearly all of Greece's 400 church districts have started distributing food to the poor, including at Omonoia Square. "The number of needy is increasing rapidly," says one helper there, "and we don't know whether the end is even in sight."
In fact, it probably isn't. Last Wednesday, the governing Socialists passed a massive austerity package in parliament by a slim majority, despite intense protests. The decision paves the way for the next round of emergency loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Without this €12 billion ($17 billion), Athens would default on its debt within two weeks.
George Provopoulos, governor of the Bank of Greece, believes torpedoing the austerity package, as the country's conservative opposition tried, would have been "suicide." Still, Provopoulos also believes Greece has "reached the limit" and that it would be impossible to squeeze any more out of the people.
In remarks to the conservative newspaper Kathimerini, he spoke about what he saw as the root cause of the crisis. "There is little doubt that the failings of (the existing social and political) system hindered the implementation of policies that would have averted the existing ills," he said. "We are paying the price of past mistakes."
The emergency financing will help Greece through the next months and it will buy the rest of the EU some time -- time in which the euro crisis may ease somewhat. But it's unlikely that it can save Greece. The last few decades have seen an elite, with the Papandreou, Karamanlis and Mitsotakis families at its core, establish a system of economic patronage. They threw around billions the government didn't actually have and showered friends and relatives with prosperity that was all based on credit. These leaders bloated their country's administration so that everyone could have a piece, and created a bureaucratic monster in the process.
The political parties' business dealings were always more about favors than policies. Anyone with access to public funds used them to buy friends and voters, who were then beholden to the party -- and to the family running it. The result for Greece has been a feudal democracy, where the generations come and go, but the names remain the same: Papandreou and Karamanlis and Karamanlis and Papandreou, with a Mitsotakis thrown in every now and then.