28 Apr 2021

What does the New Act on Archival Material and Archival Activity bring?

In addition to numerous novelties and changes in Serbian legislation, the beginning of this year was also marked by the legal regulation of archiving materials and similar documentation, which attracted significant attention.  The new Archival Material and Archival Activity Act (the “Act“) is not only an important step towards improving the protection of archival material and regulating archival activity but also towards developing awareness of the importance of preservation of archival material, since that helps “protect” the history of our country.

Until recently Serbia did not have a specific act that would comprehensively regulate the issue of archival material and archival activities.  The 1994 Cultural Heritage Act and the 1998 Archival Material Act were applicable to the issue of preservation of archival material but many of their aspects were not harmonized with the new forms of archival material and methods of preservation based on modern technologies.  The Cultural Heritage Act was in many aspects anachronistic and poorly adapted to the 21st century, and it also imposed obligations with a rather long deadline.

Therefore, it was clearly necessary to pass new legislation to regulate this area, so the new Act was passed in January last year, and it came into force in February.

The Act introduced the rule that archival material must be kept in the form in which it was created.  In this regard, it is especially interesting that the Act singles out digital archival material, defining it as a type of material that was originally created in electronic form, which shows that the Act is keeping up with the latest developments and contemporary technology.

New obligations for business entities

Most important innovations related to businesses concern the holders and creators of archival material – legal entities and entrepreneurs.

As they work, businesses create documentation, which due to the importance of its content has the status of archival material.  Archival material is kept in its entirety – the archival fund and following a period of 30 years from its creation, it is handed over for storage to the responsible public archive.

In addition to the general obligation of conscientiously keeping documentation in an orderly and safe manner, the Act prescribes a number of obligations for holders and creators of archival material and documentation.  These obligations include:

  • recording, marking, classification, dating and archiving of archival and documentary material;
  • keeping an archive book in the prescribed form;
  • informing the competent public archive about all changes that are important for the archive material no later than 30 days from the day of their occurrence;
  • providing professional training and advanced training, as well as verification of professional competence of employees who manage documents.

Moreover, businesses and legal entities should know that they have an obligation to adopt:

  • general act on the manner of recording, classification, archiving and storage of archival material and documentary material;
  • list of categories of archival material and documentary material with retention periods;
  • general act on the way of recording, protection, and use of electronic documents.

The Act recognizes the need to protect archives in emergency situations, thus introducing an obligation for holders and creators of archives to adopt a plan of measures for the protection of archives and documentary material in case of disasters and emergencies and to implement all protective measures set by the action plan.

When it comes to performing archival activities, the Act divides archives into public, private, and special, and regulates the establishment, as well as the activities of archives in more detail.

Additional solutions introduced for better protection of archival material

The significance of the Act is that it comprehensively regulates the protection of archival material and the organization and functioning of archival activity in Serbia, and what is more, it represents a big step forward when it comes to modern methods of preserving archival material.  In addition to clearly establishing methods of preserving archival material, an objective of the Act is also to develop awareness of the necessity of preserving this type of material and its significance.

It should be noted that the Act foresees the creation of the Archival Fund of the Republic of Serbia (the „Fund“).  In addition to documents from the territory of Serbia the Fund would also include archival material which is part of Serbia’s cultural heritage even if it is currently outside the country.  Moreover, the Fund should also contain copies of foreign sources related to the history of Serbia and the Serbian people.  This content of archival material in the Fund testifies to the significant role that the Fund will play as a place that will unify all mentioned materials. In that regard, the Fund will be part of the national, but also world cultural heritage.

Although the changes introduced by the Act may seem burdensome at first glance, the changes it introduces to the current system mean that the Act will actually simplify the system of preserving archival material and performing archival activities.

When it comes to penalties, it is interesting that the Act significantly increases penalties and prescribes sanctions for a legal entity in the amount of RSD 50,000 to 2,000,000 if they do not act in accordance with the provisions of the Act, while the responsible person in the legal entity is sanctioned with a fine of up to RSD 150,000.

It can be concluded that the new Act is an important step forward in the preservation of archival material and the performance of archival activities.  It remains to be seen how and how quickly the new Act will be implemented in practice.


Authors: Danica Misojčić, Mina Kuzminac