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To the problem of the ethnographic investigations of the internet communities (bulgariansfrombanat_worldwide case study)

D.M.Luchev
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On the basis of one of the possible encounters of internet and ethnography the paper aims to show the role and the significance of computer mediated communication for re-creation and/or invention of a new (former) ethnic and confessional group in the virtual space. The topic is situated in the science context of virtual diasporas’ and ethnic and confessional identity’s problems, particularly with the Balkans origin. The community of Banat Bulgarians Catholics observed in its two dimensions (virtual and material) is added to the growing number of acts of the post-modern globalisation.

“… Together and worldwide are opposite, but complementary.

One shows a dream, the other shows a reality…”

(Message 124; Date:Wed Mar 19, 20031:11 am; Subject: Da uluva i az raskas [1]).

This paper aims to prove one of the possible crossing points of Internet and ethnography, on the basis of some initial results and problems in studying the group of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics [2]. What will be subject to consideration will also be some of the problems in studying the specific virtual terrain and virtual settlement,as well as the virtual community, whereby emphasis will be laid on the role of “the language” in it and about it.

At the start of the third millennium the relationship of Internet and ethnography is multilayered and two-way. What characterises this relationship is its growing intensity and density. To living on the borderline between the mechanical and the virtual age [3] provides a unique opportunity to observe the disappearance, the appearance and transformations of civilisations and cultures. The problem of the so-called Internetdiasporas, Cyberdiasporas, and virtual diasporas is not new (cf. for instance Diamandaki 2003). Knowing the history and culture of this community [4] (a certain part of the members of the virtual group have already been my respondents) is a fine opportunity of searching what it draws from the material world for its (re)constitution in the virtual one. A prerequisite for my interest in ethnography and the Internet has been the appearance of a new type of sources [5] in my attempts to apply the methodology used so far also in the search for new approaches both to the sources themselves, and, as a whole, to the study of the present-day state of the community of the Banat Bulgarians who are Catholics.

Virtual ethnography [6] is one of the aftereffects of the processes, taking place in ethnographic knowledge in the 1970s and 1980s (commonly referred to as a period of “blurred genres”). The ethnographic strategies start to be increasingly more widely applied to sociological, historical, biographical, clinical, etc. studies, while entering the ethnographic practice have been the computers, which in the 1990s acquired widespread application in the quality analyses. In the 1980s, yet another significant transition was carried through in the development of the ethnographic theoretical and methodological conceptions; it characterised the appearance of post-paradigmal ethnography (Marcus, Fischer 1987; James et al. 1997).

The social constructivism, appearing as a reaction to the empirical methodologies based on logics, sets, according to some authors, the methodological trends of investigation of the Internet (cf. for instance Paccagnella 1997). At the same time, the social constructivism builds a new scholarly paradigm, both in the social sciences and in the humanities, determining in which is the thesis that the facts in the world are not independent of us as observers, and that scientific knowledge is always the result of situational perspective[7]. Constructivistic interpretations of culture also begin to find application in Bulgarian ethnology; they are based on the understanding that people create their own reality by way of a continuous process, in which man is simultaneously a creator and a product of the social (Berger, Luckmann 1966).

The pluralisation and globalisation of the cultures, under the impact of the mass media, telecommunications, economics, migrations, etc., have been entailing the increasingly more difficult geographical defining of the ethnographic field as early as since the 1970s. Local culture has been completely involved in the widespread processes of political and economic changes, whereby ethnographers have “to place their subjects firmly in the flow of historic events” (Marcus, Fischer 1986: 44) and not to equalise the field to a temporal, spatial and social unity. The shift of the geographically determined material space to a space, mediated by a computer, has ultimately transferred the focus of investigations “from place to interaction, from location to movement” (Markham 2003).

In the early years of the ethnographic study of the global network, the communities and cultures had smaller space and means of their (re)creation, due to the imperfections and restrictions of the PC software, as well as the separation of the different forms (programmes) for that (re)creation and existence – mailing lists, newsgroups, chat, conferencing, MUD programmes, etc. (cf. a short description, for instance, in Mason 1996). Today the “Yahoo! Group” is advertised as “the easiest way for groups of people to communicate on the Internet” and hosts (“giving virtual refuge to”) a great quantity of such groups. One of them is BulgariansFromBanat_worldwide,listed as a “Discussion group for Bulgarians fromBanat”.The characteristics “for Bulgarians fromBanat could be interpreted also as a condition, restricting the access to the virtual space of the group. What is typical of groups similar to the observed virtual group is that their netiquette (rules of behaviour and communication) is non - virtually preset as being “a culture”.

Of major importance for understanding “the social and cultural reality of virtual communities” (Nocera 2002) within the context of the problem for the field is the theory of a virtual settlement (Jones 1997). Building the principles of virtual archaeology, C. Jones considers that differentiation should be made between the virtual settlements and the virtual communities, by themselves. So that it may be defined as a virtual settlement (one of the main prerequisites for and characteristics of the existing of a virtual community), the cyberspace has to comply with certain conditions, regarding the level of interactivity, the multitude of communicating people, the maintained level of membership of the group and the availability of a common virtual public space.

Unlike the IRC, the discussion groups (based on e-mail communication) are asynchronous in their essence, despite the fact that each one could use also its own chat channel, i.e. synchronous communication. The development of the software so far enables the maximally real (re)creation in them of “the external reality”. Of interest is the process of mastering space. In the course of time the members of the group themselves look for, create and add new links to “sites” related to the origin, history, culture and present day of the community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics (Cf. Appendix 4, line 90). These are: texts (mostly by members of this community), composed in the 20 th and 21 st century; photos of Timisoara, Star Besenov (some of the main settlements of the community in Romania); photos of meetings of the community in North America, Western Europe and Romania; links to web sites with information about the history and culture of the community; links to the main printed publications of the community: “Nasha Glas” [Our Voice]newspaper, “Literaturna Misal [Literary Thinking]journal, “Falmis” newspaper [8], etc., so that everyone could be and is involved, at any chosen moment, in what is taking place in/within the community in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and across the world. There is voting in cases of different opinions; some problems are discussed in real time via the chat channel, etc. In this way public space of high intensity (in terms of building and usage) is being created.

The virtual settlement came into being at the end of 2002 and started its active life in the begining of January 2003 (cf. Appendixes 1 and 2). To date the group consists of more than 60 members. The number of men and women is almost equal. The age scale is between 21 and 52, concentreated in the interval between 25 and 40 years of age. Probably with few exceptions (if there are such, at all, among those “not available”), the members have university education or are in the process of getting a university diploma, which is an evidence, that this is part of the cultural elite of the community[9]. Regarding “occupations”, the group could be divided into two parts: specialists, associated with computer technologies, and specialists, working in the spheres of culture, education and the arts. Half of the population of “the virtual settlement” moved as early as during the first month, and by the end of the second month it reached nearly 75 percent of its present numbers. It can be seen from Appendix 1 [10] that in terms of residence the members of the virtual group overlap with the places of residence of those of the non-virtual community[11].

Besides the demography or parameters of the population (Members), the other most important characteristics of the virtual settlement, and through it – of the virtual community, too, are the Messages. From the point of view of description of the terrain, what is determining is their structuring, intensity and interactiveness[12]. In the period between December 29, 2002 and August 18, 2003, more than 62 percent of the communication units were actually (documented – “Reply”) answers to earlier messages (cf. Appendix 3). The rest (single) are messages of greetings, announcements of the publication of the regular numbers of the Nasha Glas [Our Voice]newspaper, polling results, etc., and as a whole a practical interrelationship could be followed of all the messages (on the basis of their contents). This comes to show the high level of community interaction (and existence) in the virtual group over the period under consideration, and particularly between December 29, 2002 and June 11, 2003.

Appendix 2 presents the intensity of the discourse for the period. The graph illustrates that the community had also started its existence with a very high intensity. This implies the existence, before and outside the group, of personal e-mail contacts between some of the members, which is also borne out by the analysis of the contents of the messages. In the same way as in earlier field work so far, here, too, we have access to the public space of the community and cannot peep behind the doors of “the houses”, but the intensity and contents of the discourse are indicative of the existence and the important role of that private sphere of personal interrelations (also based on Internet) for the existence of the public sphere, as well as the other way round. It has been established from the distribution of the number of messages by months, that the group rapidly reaches its peak position in communication, while the greater frequency and the multiplication of the hiatuses suggests that communication goes back to the private sphere and to personal contacts. The distribution according to days in the month, week and in hours is also indicative[13].

At the end of the 20 th century, three books came out, characterising in most general terms the trends of development of the ethnographic investigation of Internet (Hine 2000; Miller, Slater 2000; Zurawski 2000). Within the contenxt of the Eastern European and, in particular, the Bulgiarian ethnographic paradigm of investigation of the ethnic, yet another main direction could take shape and be identified: the investigation of the interrelationship and interaction (as a biltateral process) between the forms and manifestations existing in two dimensions (material and virtual) of the communities observed to date. Bearing in mind the worldwide processes, it could be anticipated that the local, regional and ethnic (why not, ethnographic, too) etc. groups and communities, related to the Bulgarian ethnic space, and existing in two dimensions (as a simultaneous state and/or as a consecutive development) are yet to grow[14].

More than 90 fundamental definitions of the concept of a community have been listed as early as in the 1950s, and have been rapidly multiplying and expanding in terms of concept space (cf. Jones 1997). Considering the changes in the concept of community, J.Fernback and B.Thompson (1995), for instance, assume that it refers to a network of social relations, which operate within specific boundaries or localities, but also that the community has an ideological component, as well, owing to its attitude to the sense of a common character, identity and interests.

Some scholars consider that the Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) is largely “changing the way we define and view the concept of a community” (Thomsen et al. 1998), although it could also be claimed that “the textual virtual communities”, for instance, appeared as early as in the middle of the 17 th century (cf. Stone 1991). Such an expansion of the concept of a virtual community[15] entails analogies with the imagined communities of J. Anderson[16] . Within the context of the postmodern ethnographic understanding about the virtual communities, based on CMC, in quite a number of them we shall probably find an attempt at “a return” to the traditional community[17]. In the e-mail groups, as the one under investigation, the direct communication passes “from one to one” to “ one to many”and “from many to many” people. The emotional links are also as strong as in the non-virtual communities (and in the cases when these relations are “new”, and not doubling “the material”), while the community identity is, to a high (traditional) degree, determining for membership in it of everyone, because the community does not accept or “expels” everyone, who does not know and does not conform to its system of values and symbols, to its norms, customs, traditions and practices and does not know its language of speaking and making (the language of its “living”), which is not identital with its essence. In practice, the virtual group turns out to be a continuation and part of the really existing community.

In approaching the object we cannot neglect assumptions, which the different investigations confirm (this case study included), i.e. that the virtual community comes to fill up the place, emptied by the modern times, for the people to live together – one of the three basic spheres of interactive existence, apart from the “home” and “the workplace” (Oldenburg 1989). The members of the communities usually accept the common virtual space as their“house”, “room”, “cafe”, “pub”, and so on and so forth – “their common place”, which suggests the publicly shared emotional “closeness”.

The problem concerning “the language” of an investigated community acquires new dimensions in the virtual space. The on-line language is not an abstraction, as in the material world – the language is the reality. During field research on the community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics so far (and in principle, as well), the informants, regardless of how they accept the ethnographer, try to “speak” his (assumed) “language” so as to be understood. Unlike this situation and unlike the observations on the language of this community in the different kinds of printed publications[18], the virtual field – where its members live their “everyday life” in the form of “a recorded conversation” from and among them themselves (with no outside interference, with observation, not included, as this is in this case), makes it possible to come to results which have so far remained just as hypotheses and assumptions, owing to the meeting between “the locals” and “the foreigner”. Further on, I have presented some primary results of the observation of the community identity of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics on the basis of “the language” as a means of communication and as a topic of this communication.

Communication within the virtual group is based on two languages: “Paulician”[19] (72.8%) and Romanian (12.8%). As this is also obvious in Appendix 4, the use of Romanian is concentrated in the first part of the discourse[20]. This characterises some trends, also observed in field studies in Banat, Romania. The public “conversation” probably continues some “private” forms of contacts among the members of the virtual group (via Internet, in particular).The analysis of the profile of the participants (some of them have already been my respondents) during that initial phase reaffirms earlier observations that the Romanian language is “sufficient” and basic language for communication among the members of the community in Banat, Romania, within the range of between 15 and 50 years of age and outside the rural environment. The existence of bilingual texts (some of them “internal” translations) and of translations of entire messages proves the appearance of the cultural “translation” as a necessity for the preservation of the imagined community. This refers both to that part of the community, which is living in Banat, Romania, and which continues to be the basic source (cf. Appendix 1, Origin) for the formation of its diaspora – confirmed by the existence of members, who do not know “Paulician” not only written but spoken, as well [21] (translations Romanian- Paulician), as well as for the parts of the community in Serbia (English< Romanian> Paulician, Paulician> English) and Bulgaria (Romanian> Paulician< Bulgarian), where in principle the language has never been institutionally learnt in writing[22]. In this analysis I do no go into the characterisation of the “Paulician language”, used only as a vernacular (no one of the participants can use it “in writing”), but what has to be noted is the trend to the formation of “the Paulician language” on a new virtual level, not only as a written language[23] but also as lexicology and grammar. A trend can also be observed among the diaspora in North America and Western Europe, whereby the English language gradually substitutes the Romanian in its role of full-fledged expression of the thoughts, while the “Paulician” by its confinement (in terms of knowing and using it) as lexicology and grammar, increasingly narrows down its field of functioning even in the everyday family milieu. The problems of the influence and of the place of the Bulgarian language in this process are interesting from the point of view of two trends, taking shape in the development of the community tongue (community itself). Part of the members of the virtual group are representatives of “the technological” intelligentsia of the community, shaped in Timisoara, Romania. These members are the core of the group and set the trends for its development. The influence of the philological intelligentsia (teachers, journalists), some of whom, during the past 10 years, have been cultivated in Bulgaria, cannot yet be observed, but there are grounds to assume that it would be limited and artificial. The potential of the Bulgarian section of the diaspora is almost nil, and fairly doubtful in terms of influence. Part of the community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics, living in Bulgaria, have owed their existence so far to the preservation of the influence of the centre, located in Banat, Romania, and to its relations (real and/or imagined) with it[24].

An analysis of the usage of the respective languages in the messages confirms several hypotheses, brought to the fore by “ordinary” field work. There are powerful centrifugal forces all across the (non-virtual) community both with respect to its parts in different states and settlements, and as personal identification. Attempts have been observed of the intelligentsia (deliberate or not?) to consolidate and revive the community. As a beginning, what takes shape on the basis of the use of the language (something which is an observed phenomenon also with regard to other virtual diasporas) is the formation of a new centre of authority and of the beginnings of “creolized discourse” (as Anderson 1997 calls it), which will inevitably be exerting increasingly greater impact on the further development of the community.

The place of “the language” as a subject of the discourse (cf. Appendix 4), along with the high intensity (cf. Appendix 2) and the real interactivity (cf. also the actual one in Appendix 3) of the messages featuring in it, comes to show the significance of this subject as a basis for the formation of the virtual group and for the existence of the community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics (in generally), as well as being a way and form of creating a high degree of social reality in the virtual space. The first questions, confronting the group (in particular, on the basis of the language), are in what language the communication will proceed and “who are the Paulicians”[25]. It may be claimed that the centre, converging to which is the discourse, is the problem of the community identity of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics (as a whole) as well as of the community identity of the members of the virtual group. Standing out in the frequent discussion of the community identity (in particular, of that of the members of the virtual group) is the close intertwining of the subject of the language with the subjects of the origin, history, religion, culture and name of the community (cf. Appendix 4, lines 50, 60, 80). A segmentation of the virtual group (and of the community as a whole), could be observed on the basis of the adoption and use of the language: in terms of age (children // middle-aged generation // in retirement age); in terms of social status (villagers // citizens // “returned” villagers); in terms of territory (basic loci-villages // towns, other states // “homecoming”); and intellectually. In its entirety, this is paramount to: [(attempt at handing down / learning) > (forgetting / attempt at reproducing in varied non-traditional forms) >(“remembering” / ultimate change – transformation – new forms and contents)]of the language (culture)[26]. Considered through the prism of the subject about “the language”, the community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics passes through a new form of post-modern existence outside the local tie-up with space. What has been observed is a pluralisation of the centres of authority and correlation, as well as multidirection and great variety of means and ways of “filling in” and substantiating the individual identity (self-awareness) with respect to that community[27]. The “Paulician language” becomes a symbol of the identity of the group (and the community as a whole) – a symbol, which is “filled” by the participants in the group themselves with connotations in terms of history and contemporary social and cultural terms [28] and owing to the emotive function of this symbol, strong relations of emotional attachment are created, despite of the absence of face to face contacts. The Internet becomes a means of “learning” and establishing of the community identity – “language” [29] - and a place, where that identity can be materialised by its bearers[30]. The processes, observed in the virtual group investigated, probably show the inception of a trend, whereby communication, mediated by a computer, increasingly takes over the functions of the face-to-face communicating for the purpose of (re)constructing the ethnic communities (regardless of their “volume” in terms of space, numbers of terminology) on the level of every day life.

The on-line communitarism, the virtual ethnic identities, the digital nations, are part of what M. Poster (1998: 197) calls “the strange new world of the postmodern quotidian”. And this case study, developed on the basis of a community, fairly “traditional” at first glance, shows that “people increasingly organize their meaning not around what they do but on the basis of what they […]believe they are” (Castells 1997: 470). The community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics, observed in its two dimensions (virtual and material), becomes involved in the growing provocative manifestations of the postmodern glocalization – the two way homogeneous process of global diffusion and of a secondary fastening of the local of the most diverse and problematic (problematised and problematising) identities – the “global creation of the local” as R. Robertson (1995) puts it. The virtual group analysed is glocalised essentially on the basis of the simultaneous existence of two components (processes): on the one hand – origination from the local, relationship with the local and speaking about the local; and, on the other hand – occupation of a place or the attempt at occupying a place in the global space and the use of Internet for its (re)birth and existence.

We have been witnessing an intensifying process, noted as early as in the first half of the 1990s, whereby the ethnic groups begin to be increasingly more global and local, at one and the same time, via the spread of the electronic media and, most of all, of the Internet, while ethnography, in its virtual edition, is called upon to reduce the amazement (and tensions), engendered by the senses and meanings, moving at crosspurpose, of social and cultural spaces moving at different rates, and among their “bearers” – the people. The orientation to the phenomena, emerging in the process of evolution of virtual life, opens up new horizons and ways to the study of the new human cultures in the new age – the virtual age. The micro realities, as that of the virtual group investigated, are just a small reflection of what is to come. The virtual world is (a part of one) real world, or, to use a well known metaphor, we are taking a look at the Other One - the creation and the creator of the cyberculture, and we see a mirror…

 

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Appendix 1. Demographic Characteristics of the Virtual Settlement
Appendix 2. Number of Messages for the Respective Dates in the Period under Investigation
Appendix 3. Actual (Documented) Connection between the Messages
Appendix 4. Analysis of “the Language” of the Messages


[1]“Da uluva i az raskas” – “Let me also tell a story”.

[2] The community of “the Banat Bulgarian Catholics” is currently distributed in three Balkan states – Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria. It took shape in the 18 th century and is part of the Old Catholics who had managed to escape after the defeat of the Chiprovtsi Uprising (1988) and the Bulgarians – “Pavlikiani” / “Pavlicheans” (Paulicians – from the name of medieval Christian heresy, cf. Fortescue 2003), from Northern Bulgaria, who had adopted the Catholic religion in the 17 th century. At the end of the 17 th and early 18 th century, due to the hard economic and political conditions in the Ottoman Empire, the two groups settled within the frontiers of the Habsburg Empire, where the Old Catholics were gradually assimilated by the Pavlikiani mass. After 1878, some of the Banat Bulgarians came back to Bulgaria, but most remained in their settlements on the territory of Austro-Hungary, and after the division of the region in 1918 – in the boundaries of Romania and Serbia. In Romania they lived in more compact masses in tbe villages of Star Beshenov (Dudeshti Veki), Breshkia and Vinga. In Bulgaria they settled mostly in the villages of Bardarski Gheran, Asenovo, Dragomirovo, Gostilia, and in Serbia they preserved greater compactness in the village of Ivanovo. Regarding the history, culture, presence and studies on the community of Banat Bulgarian Catholics, cf. for instance Miletic 1987, Telbizov, Vekova-Telbizova 1963, Stojkov 1967, Njagulov 1999, Luchev 2002, Luchev 2003.

[3] Comparable to the time of change from the Bronze to the Iron Age, for instance, to all historical analogies, which could possibly come to mind.

[4] I have been carrying out long year s of most varied observations on the community. I have also carried out a few specific field research investigations: “Bardarski Gheran 1999”, “Banat-Romania 2000/2001” (in the basic settlements of the community there), as well as the project “Study of the Community Identity of the Banat Bulgarians in Bulgaria”, in 2002, in the main settlements of the community in Bulgaria: Bardarski Gheran, Assenovo and Dragomirovo, accomplished with the contributions of the International Centre on the Problems of the Minorities and the Cultural Interactions, Sofia, Bulgaria.

[5] The problem regarding the place, role and significance of these sources has not yet been raised within the context of Bulgarian ethnography. This article is an initial attempt at getting into this set of problems.

[6]Different researchers give different meanings to the concept of “virtual ethnography” (cyberethnography, on-line ethnography, ethnography of Internet). In this article it is not used to denote a new scholarly discipline; it has been used in its widest meaning, accepted by all, of ethnographical study of virtual space.

[7] The flexibility of interpretation, which is the cornerstone of social constructivism, reflects on virtual ethnography also in the search for and combining of varied research perspectives to the object and to the methods of its analysis. The postmodern ethnological methodology is still slowly making its way within the frameworks of the Bulgarian scholarly paradigm, regardless of the fact that the current characteristics of the object presuppose the use of new approaches. The community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics (its virtual projection, specifically) is a characteristic and highly interesting modern example first, of the active reflection on the tradition (traditions) on the part of its “bearers”, as an alternative for the community identification (and community existence), and second, of the ways whereby as a community it “revives” and “preserves” its culture not only (and not so much) for its direct internal use, but also in view of the external “observer”. “The Observer” in this case is fairly “complicated” in his complexity, because the community exists within the Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian, European, world, etc. ethnic, social and political context and has to preserve an optimum balance in view of its fine “presentation” to The Other One in compliance with its interests.

[8]“Falmis” newspaper is uploaded in the settlement (community) itself. The other two publications are also uploaded by members of the group prior to and during its existence.

[9] Investigations of the users worldwide have shown that their average age is about 35 years (cf. Zurawski 1999). If in North America their group is increasingly more representative of the whole population, though the presence among them of the poor, undereducated and non-white members of the community continues to be low (Wellman et al. 2003), in the underdeveloped countries, those using the internet are representatives of the economic, political and cultural elite of the respective societies. This is particularly valid for the post-socialist countries and for those in the Middfle East (cf. for instance Anderson 1997). To date we have no grounds, whatsoever, to assume that informants with other characteristics could be present in the virtual projection of the observed community. On the other hand, the problem of the identity of the community within the contemporary context is existential to the highest degree for that part of the community as a whole, which part has the characteristics of a virtual group (compare Boncheva, Luchev 2000).

[10] Additional data outside the “ profile”, stated by the members, have been entered in italics in Appendix 1; these have been based on earlier knowledge and field research as well as on the information deduced from the messages.

[11] The same can also be said about the origin of the members of the virtual group on the basis of an analysis of the contents of the messages and of the acquaintance with some of them from earlier field investigations. As numbers, the members of the virtual group are to a high extent proportionally distributed in comparison with the states and settlements of residence of the non-virtual community.

[12] The size of the paper does not allow the analysis of the interactiveness of the messages, which, by itself, is a complicated and voluminous task, giving an idea about “the density” and “stability” of the group (cf. for instance Rafaeli, Sudweeks 1997). Interactive is that message, which refers, as an answer, not only to the one preceding it, but also to all the others in the discourse, and thereby to the relations among them. It is assumed that this is one of the principles on the basis of which the existence and social reality are built, in the non-virtual space as well.

[13] The distribution by days of the week in decreasing intensity, and in groups by similar numbers, is the following: Tuesday – Thursday / Sunday – Friday / Monday / Saturday. The highest intensity in the middle ten-day period of the month, followed by the first, comes to show that the group accepts this public space as a place where it could “steam off” (like in “the square”, “coffee house”, “bar”), and, on the other hand, the distribution of the messages during the week and in all hours of the day and night is indicative that the members send and receive CMC at home, while on work, and elsewhere, apart from the first two places (also confirmed by the contents).

[14] The community of the Banat Bulgarian Catholics is not an isolated example. Recently, the Roma “ community” in Bulgaria has had an on-line projection, moreover, with a much higher degree of institutionalisation of the virtual space.

[15] One of the fundamental definitions of virtual community is: “Virtual communitiesare social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace” (Rheingold 1993: 5). As early as during the emergence of the virtual communities, some authors defined them as “incontrovertibly social spaces in which people still meet face-to-face, but under new definitions of both ‘meet' and ‘face'…. [V]irtual communities [are]passage points for collections of common beliefs and practices that united people who were physically separated” (Stone 1991).

[16] Some authors, without too many conditions, discus s the virtual communities, established on the basis of national, ethnic and regional identity, as “imagined communities” (cf. for instance Gajjala 1996).

[17] H. Rheingold, one of the coryphaei of the investigation (and establishment) of virtual communities, wrote as early as in 1992: “ Virtual communities might be real communities, they might be pseudocommunities, or they might be something entirely new in the realm of social contracts, but I believe they are in part a response to the hunger for community that has followed the disintegration of traditional communities around the world.” (Rheingold 1992).

[18] Cf. for instance P. Guentcheva 2001. Cf. also Boncheva, Luchev 2000.

[19]“Pauliciani” is also outside wide-spread endoname of Banat Bulgarian Catholics.

[20] Together with the bilinguist texts – 80% for the first 25 messages.

[21]“….IN CE LIMBA SA COMMUNICAM?… N.M. (name of a member of the virtual group, my note, D.L.) nu poate citi si scrie pavlicheana cu toate ca este 100% pavlichean…” (IN WHAT LANGUAGE SHALL WE COMMUNICATE? N.M. cannot read and write in Paulician, but he is nevertheless 100% Paulician ). (M. 35 D.: Thu Jam 16, 2003 8:34 pm S.: …Batind Cimpii);

[22]…Apa moitu pisanj na pavlikenski vaida i malku greshnu, kacha bukvi, ama tui zashtotu u Bardare smi sam urtuvali anismi pisal na latinic…”(As to my writing in Paulician, it seems to be somewhat wrong, in terms of letters, but this is because in Bardare we have only spoken, but we have not written in Latin letters) (M. 48 D.: Sat Feb 1, 2003 9:43 pm S.: Re: Dubre dusal).

[23] The virtual group is also interesting for the great variety of attempts to “ put down in writing” the Paulician vernacular. Proceeding from observations so far, no conclusion could be drawn regarding the existence of a pseudo-dialect (cf. Thomsen et al.. 1998), but there are numerous signs of the beginning of its formation within the virtual group.

[24]“….I nija, palkenete u Bulgarija, se krepim sam na spomenete i vrazkata s palkenete u Banata…” (And we, the Paulicians in Bulgaria hold on only resting on the memories and the connection with the Paulician in Banat.) (M. 104 D.: Fri Mar 14, 2003 8:45 am S.: falmis).

[25]…Prima tema, foarte intriganta,…- “Cine sunt Paulicienii?”(The first topic, fairly interesting,… - “Who are the Paulicians?”) (M. 28 D.: Wed Jan 15, 2003 9:48 pm S.: “Cerbul Irlandez” – traducere libera (cu adaugiri)“…Well, obviously we have got a problem: As you can see. (I.C. –name of a member of the group, my note D.L .) and myself considered only the “Romanian” Paulicians. By and large we know who we are. What is it going to be now with the apparition of new people from Ivanovo (YU), Bardarski Gheran (BG), and who knows what surprises we can get tomorrow? If we use the archaic Paulician language people like N.M.(name of a member of the group, my note, D.L.) will not understand. If we use English most of the emigrants will have access, but most of the ones left “home” (wherever this might be) will not. I guess there is no clear and easy solution to this, so get on board and do the best you can. Kaca u starata palchienska pesma: “Haida-ti, haida-ti makar koi, u tui drustvu nika doi!”(As in the old Paulician song: “Come on, come on, whoever he may be, may he come to this company!”) Personally, I will try to get the “abc” from N.M.'s(name of a member of the group, different from the above mentioned, my note, D.L.) site and learn (M. 34; D.: Thu Jan 16, 2003 8:11 pm;S.: language dilemma).

[26] Of interest as the subject of analysis are the forms and ways whereby the virtual group reflects in itsel f (as a text) these community processes, as well as in which it creates the interrelationships between the different stands, views and moods within itself. Of interest are, likewise, the lines along which the discourse moves in the formation of a new postmodern level of community identity. Unfortunately they cannot be presented here.

[27] Just as examples: “ …da stignat zagjinu na idna “concluzia” – kuja smi nija! – indiferent kuja za bij, NIJS SMI!”(…to come together to one “conclusiuon” – who we are! – no doubt what it would be. WE ARE!) M. 45 D.: Thu Jan 30. 2003 5:31 pm S.: Dubre dusal) “…Nija sinca, makar kade da zhuvejmi pu tozi svet smi se paltjene. Nishtu nimu vazva za idno patarche seme, makar tazi zeme da se namerva u Europa, Amerika ali Australija. Tuj kakotu uistu mu vazva ij nasha jazitj i nashtu paltjensu samusaznanji…” (We all, wherever we may be living in this world, we are all Paulicians. Nothing connects us to a piece of land, wherever this land may be in Europe, America or Australia. What clearly connects us is our language and our Paulician self-awareness) (M. 99 D.: Tue Mar 11, 2003 11:19 pm S.: UdS…)

[28]“… na dalja za pisa palcjnescji ci misla ci sinca razbireti, caku ni znajti da pisiti valjda, ama ga cetiti ji razberiti… nija se vlecimi ud idna zona ud Bulgarija dili i dnis se hurtuva palcjenscji (a ne balgarscji), udvan tuj sa katolicane, a ne ortodoxe… Tajci, F.(name of a member of the group, my note, D.L.), himas pravu, ci neti bas da se zvis balgarin! Nija smi palcjene ud Bulgarjia i katolicane… ama as dumam ci ga himam druga vera, i druga cultura, kat smi ud vise 200 gudini tuke, moj racunim ci smi sas semi drugu nestu ud Balgarete ortodoxe…”(…further on I shall write in Paulician, because I think that you can understand everything, though you cannot write properly, but you understand everything … we are descendants from one region of Bulgaria, where Paulician (rather than Bulgarian) is spoken to this day, moreover these are Catholics, and not Eastern Orthodox Christians …So F. you are right not to want to call yourself exactly a Bulgarian! We are Paulicians from Bulgaria, and Catholics… but I say that when you have another faith and another culture, as we have been here for more than 200 years, it may be considered that we are something quite different from the Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians) (M. 36 D.: Thu Jan 16, 2003 9:19 pm S.: Re: …Batind Cimpii).

[29]…Za probam i as ti pisa palcensci, caku ni bas znaija. Vaja puliku za se naucim sincata…”(I shall try to write in Paulician, too, though I do not know precisely how. In this way we shall by and by learn, all of us) (M. 27 D.: Tue Jan 14, 2003 8:19 pm S.: Re: Za sate palcjene ud pu sveta!!!).“…tuje mi parvata kniga(the book becomes part of the virtual settlement even before coming out – my note, D.L.) u zivota da ceta na palcjencj jezik i mlog mi drag!!…” (…this is my first book in my life, which I am reading in the Paulician language, and I am greatly overjoyed!!) (M. 67 D.: Mon Feb 10, 2003 9:54 am S.: SV: from …).

[30]“… Koj bi mislil siga 2-3 gudini ci du di za stigni visokata tehnica, etu moj si hurtuvam na hiljadi km, bas i aku ni se puznavam, ama sincata namu mu svazva idno mlogu dusevna rabota: sincata smi palcjene…” (…Who would have thought 2-3 years ago how far high technology would go; here we can speak to each other thousands of kilometres away, though we do not know each other, but we are all connected by something highly spiritual: we are all Paulicians…) (M.60 D.: Thu Feb 6, 2003 1:02 pm S.: Dubre dusla…!)“… Together and worldwide are opposite, but complementary. One shows a dream, the other shows a reality…”(M. 124 D.: Wed Mar 19, 2003 1:11 am S.: Da uluva i az rascas).

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