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Construction work on the National Museum started in April 2013 and a decision has been made on the location  of the Estonian Academy of Arts.

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Estonia/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Mikko Lagerspetz in cooperation with Margaret Tali

During the 20th century, Estonia experienced several crises and arrived at several junctures in its development. These included the creation of an independent state in 1918, two occupations during the Second World War and the destruction of social structures by the Soviet regime. The forty-six year period of Soviet rule lasted from 1945 until independence in 1991. An important milestone in the history of Estonia was the entry to the European Union on 1 May 2004 and most recently the entry to the Euro zone in January 2011.


In cultural life and cultural policies, as well as in many other fields of politics, a distancing from patterns of the Soviet regime began in 1988, when representatives of the cultural field voiced their views for the first time in public against environmental and nationality problems. That year also marked the beginning of several organisational changes in the administration of cultural policy in Estonia (then still a Soviet republic). Formally divided between the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the Committee of Cinematography, the Publishing Committee, and the Television and Radio Committee, cultural policy was regrouped under the responsibility of a Culture Committee, which was later renamed the Ministry of Culture in 1990. From 1993 to 1996, there was a single Ministry of Culture and Education, which has since then been separated into two individual ministries.

These organisational changes have accompanied important changes in the objectives and instruments of cultural policy. During the Soviet ancien régime, the state was both the main financier of most cultural activities, and an ideological, moral, and aesthetic censor. However, prior to the proclamation of Estonian independence in 1991, cultural policy had already taken steps towards privatisation and decentralisation of cultural life. Privatisation had started already in 1987 when the first non-governmental publishing house was set up. Censorship of the media ceased officially in 1990, but had in fact been practically abolished by 1989.

The first years (1991-1995) of the new independence were characterised, above all, by the privatisation of many previously state-run cultural institutions and an overall change in the role of the state. During that period, almost all state-owned cultural institutions changed ownership and / or organisational form, either through privatisation or municipalisation. The privatisation process has had the greatest impact on the fields of books and publishing, film and broadcasting, and cultural heritage (through a de-nationalisation process, many of the previously state-owned historical buildings were returned to their previous private owners or their heirs). Private organisations have taken over much of the concert life, which was previously dominated by state agencies; despite the integration of new forms of sponsorship, the organisations of visual arts have yet primarily remained state financed.

In 1995-96, there was a relatively vivid public discussion on cultural policies, initiated and led by the Ministry of Culture and Education. The standpoint taken by the Ministry at the time was that the process of privatisation of cultural life had come to its end. A new feature in the cultural policies of the mid-1990s was the establishment of various arm's length bodies, i.e. state-owned cultural foundations which received a fixed sum of money from the state budget. The most important of them, the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (Kultuurkapital), was founded in 1994 according to the model of a similar body that existed between 1925 and 1940. The foundations distribute grants for specific purposes, independently from the Ministry of Culture. The other main instruments of cultural policy are legislation, licensing, and distribution of budget resources.

Since the mid-1990s, a recurring theme in the debate on cultural policies has been the scheduled construction of several major cultural buildings. Of these construction projects, the Musical Academy, the restoration of the Department at Foreign Art of the Museum of Arts, and the new building of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art have already been completed. The reconstruction of the Estonia Theatre was completed in 2006. An architectural competition for the new building of the National Museum (hosting an ethnographic collection, to be located in Tartu) took place in 2006. Although the application for funding from the European Commission's Regional Funds was declined, the construction work started in April 2013. In 2013 a long dispute over the Estonian Academy of Art's location was settled and instead of a new building, a former industrial venue will be renovated for its purposes by 2016. Recent years have seen a new wave of public discussion on cultural policy and its objectives. The establishment of the NGO Estonian Cultural Chamber (2011) has contributed to this debate, through research

and surveys on the development of cultural policy. A major task of cultural policy has continued to be the defence of the existing network of cultural institutions against budget cuts. The latest major administrative change took place in June 2009, when the previous Bureau of the Minister of Population Affairs was abolished and issues concerned with cultural diversity and ethnic integration were delegated to the Ministry of Culture see chapter 4.2.7).

In February 2014 a new document defining the new aims and objectives of cultural policy was adopted by the government. In the drafting of Directions of Cultural Policy 2014-2020 civil society as well as experts in separate fields of culture were consulted.

Chapter published: 13-10-2014

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