The National Archives of Estonia 100

March 5, 2020

Although the National Archives as an institution is young, the establishment of the national archives system started already at the beginning of the Republic of Estonia. National Archives was born directly after the end of Estonian War of Independence on 3 March 1920 when the Archives Committee’s first discussions were held at the library of the University of Tartu to discuss the future of the national written heritage and the formation of our own state’s archives.

It was back then decided that the Historical Archives will be established in Tartu as the holding place for historically significant institutions’ records, and the State Archives in Tallinn as the keeper of records of active state agencies. Directions drawn by the Archives Committee can be considered as the first steps to offer some consistent solutions for acquisition, preservation, and usage of the archival records. Also, a relationship of trust was established between the agencies and archives at that time.

The Archives Act of 1935 strengthened the role of archives in the preservation and usage of society’s valuable records. During the Soviet occupation the archives continued their work, the regional archives, which were active in larger towns, were renamed as city archives and governed by Moscow. Independent management of the archives was restored in the 1990s and the National Archives of Estonia became active on January 1, 1999, in accordance with the Archives Act passed in 1998. The years of 1999–2011 could be defined as a period of organisational development and consolidation for the National Archives, as well as, more importantly, a phase for transitioning to online archival services and establishment of digital archival management. The first decade of the 21st century completely transformed archival management and use of archives.

Since 2012, the National Archives acts on the basis of a renewed Archives Act as well as Archival rules. As the national archivist of Estonia, Mr. Priit Pirsko has stated, the key objective of the 2011 Act was to establish optimal legal conditions for the final transition to digital record and archival management. The archival management of the current decade is perhaps most characterised by the digital transformation – the constantly growing digitization of analogue media and acceptance of born-digital content. The National Archives is visited 1.5 million times a year and 99.5% of those visits occur online. The following statement prevails in the ongoing phase of development of Estonian archival management: if the archival source is not online then it doesn’t exist at all.

Further information on the recent history of the National Archives of Estonia can be found online in the overviews and annual reports of the National Archives ( Also, the jubilee speeches given on 2 March 2020 by Mrs. Mailis Reps, Minister of Education and Research, and by Mr. Priit Pirsko, National Archivist, can be accessed at:

  • 1920 – The first meeting of the Archives Committee, the national archives’ administration was born
  • 1921 – Two central archives were founded: The Historical Archive in Tartu as the holding place for historically significant institutions’ records, and The State Archive in Tallinn as the keeper of records of active institutions
  • 1935 – Estonia’s first Archives Act
  • 1939 – Estonian Association of Archivists was founded
  • 1940–1988 – Interruption of the former archival administration, Sovietization of the archives and closure of the archival content
  • 1988–1998 – De-Sovietization of the archives, transition to a modern archival administration and disclosure of the archival content
  • 1998 – Estonia’s second Archives Act
  • 1999 – The National Archives of Estonia was established on the basis of the former central archives
  • 2011 – Estonia’s third Archives Act
  • 2017 – The National Archives’ main building Noora was opened in Tartu

Birgit Kibal