When Uncertainty Reaches the Land of Certainty

Emblem transpoзиция by Rina Sitorus

The only thing that is certain in this life is uncertainty. Growing up in Indonesia, the cliche is nothing short of the truth. People deal with ketidakpastian every minute of their lives. It has become the norm.

When I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia, my morning always started with worrying if the bus would arrive on time, and when the bus arrived, I had to worry about getting a seat or if I could squeeze myself in. All this is due to the inability to schedule public transportation properly. Once I managed to get on the bus, I would still worry about reaching the office on time as a result of a traffic jam. Say hello to ketidakpastian in traffic. After eight hours of working, I again had to worry about whether I could make it to that dinner with a friend already postponed three times since my boss might ask me to work overtime that day. Planning a vacation with the whole family was trickier than launching a Tesla into space since there was always somebody’s boss who wouldn’t allow that poor person to use their vacation days. There are a lot of ketidakpastian in Indonesia’s employment rules as well, yet one thing is certain, you just don’t say no to your boss.

Then there is also ketidakpastian in more fundamental things such as the law, which makes people vigilant. When law enforcement is nonexistent, people feel the urge to take the law into their own hands. Another big ketidakpastian comes from employment. Not only due to the high unemployment rate, but also the global phenomenon of a “gig economy” where people work without a permanent contract, from project to project, without fringe benefits. And since health insurance is not mandatory in Indonesia, should you ever need medical treatment, you will only get what you can pay for. Which means, just don’t get sick if you (literally) can’t afford it.

It was a totally different world when I moved to the Netherlands many moons ago. Compared to Indonesia, a lot of things were and are more certain here. Just like in most western European countries. The public transportation schedule is dependable; there is always space for people on the train (unless it is rush hour) and when I want to use up my vacation days I just have to let my superior know in advance. People arrange meetings down to the minute because they are certain that everybody will be on time. You don’t have to worry about not being able to hit the gym after work because your workload is calculated scrupulously, and systematic overtime is unheard of. People even know what they will do on a Friday four weeks from now! That is how certain Dutch people are about their lives.

But things are changing. Rather rapidly. Until a few years ago, crucial things such as retirement and health care were very solid in this country, for example, but people in the Netherlands are facing more onzekerheden these days. Constantly changing political agreements and austerity have caused people to walk around wondering: How can my children secure a mortgage if nobody gives them a permanent contract? Can I still count on my pension? How much more will it be reduced by the government? When will I retire or will I ever be able to retire? And although not many will admit it openly: What is going to happen to this country if the number of migrating Muslims continues to rise?

Despite all the good reports and studies, people are feeling really insecure. More and more people in the Netherlands are experiencing personally the onzekerheid of the economy, the influence of global problems on their country, and (though to a less significant extent) the arrival of migrants.

Take pensions for example. Ongoing revisions to the system, which was once considered one of the best in the world, are now becoming the root of onzekerheden. People are forced to live with the idea that there is no such thing as a “certain pension” anymore. The repeatedly changing age of retirement gives people a headache just thinking about when they can retire, or if they ever can.

As for healthcare, in the Netherlands it is funded through taxation: mandatory health insurance contributions and taxation of income. To be fair, health care in the Netherlands is one of the last sectors to be affected by budget cuts. Nevertheless, the onzekerheid in the economy has pushed politicians and policymakers to reconsider factors such as the affordability of health care and the generosity of benefits packages.

The discussion about migrant policy is another source of onzekerheid. How many asylum seekers will be allowed to enter the country? What should be the reasons for granting a permit to stay? For how long? And what are their rights exactly? If someone stays “illegally” while waiting for their permit, are people allowed to shelter them? All of these questions make people feel onzeker, due to not only humanitarian reasons, but also the sharing of (already limited) resources.

Returning to the situation in Indonesia, except if you are a public servant, you won’t get any pension unless you take care of it yourself. The same thing with health care, as there is no such thing as universal health care; the medical treatment you get is certainly the result of your own insurance.

It is funny when I think about it. I left the land of ketidakpastian to find out that the land of certainty is inevitably embracing onzekerheden. I guess the cliché is true then: the only thing that is certain in this life is uncertainty.