Estonian Students' Building Brigade archive at the National Archives of Estonia
The Estonian Student Building Brigade collection contains material about the activities of the Estonian Student Building Brigade, a feature of student life in Soviet Estonia. The activities of this organisation are sometimes described as a free space, which is also reflected by this collection. The documents and artefacts show how students used the summer not only for building work but also for provocative entertainment and irritating the authorities. The Estonian Student Building Brigade has a relatively positive image, and is the only remarkable phenomenon from Soviet times which has ever been celebrated since the restoration of independence.
Tartu Nooruse 3, Estonia 50411
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Name of collection
- Estonian Students' Building Brigade
Provenance and cultural activities
The Estonian Student Building Brigade (ESBB) was one of the many student building brigades in the Soviet republics. They were intended as a cheap labour force, and as organisations for ideolocial education, but, at least in Estonia, the organisation acquired another dimension. Unlike the initial aim, the ESBB evolved into an oasis of free spirits and free thought in the middle of everyday Soviet restrictions, a free space, as it is described in some studies. While some of its former members retrospectively consider its activities to be conscious opposition, others state that the entertaining events during working summers were apolitical jokes. Regardless of the point of view, the activities of the ESBB contradicted official Soviet youth policy, and this was possible only because the functionaries of the ESBB were its own, and did not come from outside the organisation.
This collection reflects everyday life during the working summers of the ESBB, its legal and financial basis, and most importantly, entertainment in the ESBB, which expressed the opposition of its members. However, since the censors and the KGB were a threat to the ESBB, the message of opposition is often hidden, which means that the researcher needs the right prior knowledge in order to understand the documents in this collection.
At the end of Soviet times, the ESBB's archive was kept in Tallinn, at 20 Kentmanni St. The headquarters of the Cental Committee of the Komsomol were located at that adress. Since the ESBB was formed by the Komsomol, its archive was kept there. In the turbulent times after the restoration of Estonia's independence, the archive was not initially transferred to the State Archives, but stayed on Kentmanni St. Parts of the archive had already been prepared for tranfser, while other parts were still unsystematised.
The archive was still there when the Embassy of the United States moved into the building on 6 February 1992. In the summer of 1992, the embassy contacted the Branch of the Estonian State Archives (Eesti Riigiarhiivi Filiaal, ERAF). The archive was handed over partly unorganised, since the still-existing ESBB did not have the resources to preserve and organise it. Nevertheless, as some parts were systematised, it was relatively easy for the State Archives to incorporate the collection. Afterwards, the collection acquired the signature ERAF.9591. It was kept in the building of the ERAF at 16 Tõnismägi St in Tallinn, and moved to the new building of the National Archives of Estonia in Tartu in 2016, after structural changes at the National Archives.
Some parts (in particular six files) of this collection are also digitised and available on the web archive of the National Archives of Estonia called Saaga.
The material in this collection is used in research, as well as for exhibitions organised by the National Archives or by former members of the ESBB. When former members of the ESBB celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ESBB in 2013, interest in the collection grew remarkably. For example, it was used for the six-episode television documentary EÜE segu (ESBB Mixture). However, Valdur Ohmann says that in some ways it is still an undiscovered collection.
Description of content
The collection contains different types of documentation about the ESBB. Altogether, there are 977 files in the collection, including official documentation about the work of students, since the main purpose of the organisation was to use students as a cheap labour force amid conditions of a serious shortage of labour.
The most interesting part of the collection is nevertheless the material about the activities of students, such as programmes for productions, emblems, posters, booklets, stickers etc. The National Archives do not usually collect textiles and other artefacts, but such objects were included in the collection before the transfer, and it was decided not to split up the collection. Thus, uniforms, badges, flags and emblems made of textiles etc, are also part of this collection.
These sources explain why the ESBB was so popular among students, showing indirectly the role of a free space which it offered them.
- artifacts: 10-99
- legal and/or financial documentation: 100-499
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
- memorabilia (posters, flyers, stamps, etc.): 100-499
- photos: 500-999
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 10-99
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Tammela, Mari-Leen
- Tark, Triin
Uuna, Airi. 2014. "Gesellschaftliche Freiräume in einem autoritären System: Die studentischen Baubrigaden in der Estnischen SSR." MA thesis, Free University of Berlin.
Uuna, Airi. 2016. "Gesellschaftliche Freiräume in einem autoritären System: Die studentischen Baubrigaden in der Estnischen SSR." Forschungen zur baltischen Geschichte 11:146-163.
Ohmann, Valdur, interview by Tammela, Mari-Leen , September 26, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection