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“No One Will Do This For Us”.

The Linguistic and Cultural Practices of Young Activists Representing European Linguistic Minorities

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Nicole Dołowy-Rybińska

This book presents a portrait of actively engaged young people representing four linguistic minorities in Europe: the Kashubs (in Poland), the Upper Sorbs (in Germany), the Bretons (in France), and the Welsh (in the United Kingdom). In numerous statements cited in the book, drawn from interviews conducted by the author, young people speak for themselves and serve as guides to their minority cultures. They draw attention to the difficulties and challenges they encounter in their day-to-day life and activism. Based on their statements, the book examines the sociolinguistic situation of each of the minorities, the prevailing linguistic ideologies and the role of minority education; it also distinguishes different types of minority language speakers. The analysis focuses on the cultural and identity-forming practices of young people in the context of different forms of community life and their different pathways to becoming engaged representing their cultures and languages.

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Chapter 6: Community and language practices of the young

Chapter 6: Community and language practices of the young

Despite the transformations in how minorities function and in the relations between their members, the long-prophesied breakdown of interpersonal ties and community life has not occurred. The changes that have taken place pertain above all to how groups are formed, namely to the shift away from the superimposed and permanent bonds that exist between people who live, reside and act together towards groups formed by individuals who are aware of their distinctiveness yet seek the support of people with whom they have something in common. Consequently, new forms of socialization emerge, and so do new types of social bonds and communities. Participation in such communities constructs the identity of individuals as well as group identity, which is based on shared involvement in certain activities. For quite some time, researchers have argued over whether it is legitimate to use the term “community” to describe different types of groups emerging in the present-day world. In their attempts to describe interpersonal relations that are established in certain more or less closed societies, many of such researchers propose a new terminology or bring into focus certain distinguishing characteristics of the groups they analyse. Such groups, which consist of people brought together by their shared concerns, interests and beliefs are sometimes referred to as “communities of interest” or “communities of assent” (Morris, 1996). In this context, however, the meaning of the word “community” goes beyond the primary meaning of the word, i.e. a group of people interested in the same thing, activity or phenomenon. As Peter Willmott (1989) points out, the word “interest” may refer both to ethnic roots, religion and politics as well as leisure activities. Importantly, such groups create a sense of identity and shared membership. Consequently, the word “community” may refer to “such sentiments or feelings, and to social bonds and patterns of behaviour that can sustain and reflect those sentiments and feelings” (Willmott, 1989: 4). In turn, Michel Maffesoli (1996) calls the groups that are formed in today’s world “new tribes,” arguing that they are based on shared emotions, which result from an affinity with others, offer individuals support, help them choose a specific lifestyle, and allow a more profound identification. In order to last, such a group creates its own rituals and practices, whose repetitive nature allows it to confirm its existence. Within such a group, individuals raised in the atomized world can undertake to perform various tasks together. Nonetheless, “emotional communities” are based on sentiments and feelings, so they are strong but not necessarily durable. As Maffesoli (1996: 122) puts it, “In contrast to the stability induced by classical tribalism, neo-tribalism is characterized by fluidity, occasional gatherings and dispersal.” As long as people remain linked to a specific group and act as part of it, the group offers them the sense that the activities that ←181 | 182→they undertake are well-motivated and facilitates their engagement, which creates, confirms and strengthens their identity.

The existence of today’s “communities” is characterized by three important elements (Davies, 2003). One of them, which invokes the classical definitions of the notion of “community,” refers to the place that brings people together (it does not have to be a physical place), enabling them to gather together, get to know one another and engage in interactions. Interactions, in turn, are the second of the elements required for the existence of a group that has the characteristics of a community. It is thanks to interactions that identity is constructed. Individuals’ shared identification with others is created through the same references (cultural symbols) and a sense of belonging to the same group. The present-day world facilitates simultaneous involvement in many “communities” related to emotions, interests and practices. Each of them influences persons, their perception of the reality around them and their actions. Many of the young people I interviewed and observed in the course of my research will cease to promote minority cultures in their future, change their interests and invest their energy elsewhere. Others will solidify their views and convictions and join official minority institutions or become engaged in political life. Before this happens, however, they will recruit more people to join the grassroots groups/communities to which they belong, and such newly-recruited individuals, through their participation and engagement, will continue to promote these groups and support their development. In this way, more and more people, through their relations with others and within the framework defined by the group’s goals and functioning mode, will develop their awareness and identity. Such communities, which may be ephemeral or more durable, are exactly what determines to a considerable extent the future of minority languages and cultures. This chapter looks at several different types of groups that have the characteristics of a community, the formation of such groups and their functioning as well as the benefits that they offer to their members. The groups described here may vary in their characteristics, but they share a similar goal, namely to solidify the sense of collective identity and therefore influence the durability of a specific minority culture.

Formation and role of interest groups focused on minority issues

What could be done to encourage young people raised in a dominant culture to take an interest in the culture of a minority so as to make them want to be involved in this culture and actively identify with it? This is one of the most difficult questions asked both by minority organizations and by the young people who actively promote and support minorities. One of the ideas that I would like to describe and analyse in this book involves creating a space in which secondary school students (who are not too young to have independent reflections, but at the same time do not have fully crystallized views and interests) could meet and work ←182 | 183→together on issues related to a minority culture, enjoy themselves, make contacts and even strike up friendships as well as learn, thus broadening their knowledge about their “small homeland” and about what they could do to support and promote it. Examples of such activities can be found in each of the minorities that I analysed. Some of such activities are promoted by state-supported organizations established to preserve the identity of young generations, for example the Welsh organization Urdd, the Sorbian youth association Pawk, and the Breton Celtic circles. Others seek to respond to the needs of specific local communities in specific territories. Here, I would like to focus on the workshops for secondary school students that have been organized for several years by the Pomorania Students Club in Kashubia.

These workshops – called “Remus’ Wheelbarrow” [Remusowa Kara] workshops after the main character of a Kashubian novel – are an idea from a group of university students who wanted to come up with a suitable form of meetings that would give young Kashubs the opportunity to look at the Kashubian culture from a new perspective. Here is how one of the workshop organizers explains this need:

I22F(K): We often hear the opinions that they thought those were just old songs, grandmas in folk costumes, generally nothing but embarrassment. So it’s our mission to change this thinking.

The Pomorania students have the impression that young people usually associate the Kashubian culture with folklore performances and the Kashubian language either with elderly people or with school classes and therefore find it hard to identify with them. For several years, the workshops have been co-funded by the competent ministry, which on the one hand enables the Pomorania students to do many tasks that otherwise would not have been possible and on the other one defines the framework for such activities. Nevertheless, the Club’s preparations for the workshops still take place amid stormy discussion, in which I have participated on several occasions.

Many of the young people that I interviewed mentioned that participation in the workshops was an important experience for them – it enabled them to meet their peers interested in Kashubian culture and change their thinking about participation in cultural activities as well as made them want to join a group promoting Kashubia. I asked the Pomorania students to take me to the workshops they were organizing. I did not want the secondary school students participating in the workshops to treat me as an outsider, so I agreed with the Pomorania members that I would join the preparations and run one of the proposed workshops, thus stepping into the role of an organizer. My position was therefore twofold: I was actively involved in purely organizational issues and moderated discussions and at the same time conducted my observations.

A several-day workshop is designed to make all the participants feel that they must put certain effort, prepare a project related to the Kashubian language and/or culture to qualify for the workshop. Usually, they are offered several options, for example making a film/music video on Kashubian topics, writing a story/←183 | 184→drawing a comic about Kashubs/in Kashubian, making a poster/an illustration for a Kashubian work/organization and so on. The results of their efforts are then shown to all participants at the beginning of the workshops, sparking off many positive reactions and comments. Consequently, every participants feels involved from the outset, which helps in their activity during the workshops later on. Several months before the workshops, the Pomorania members tour schools and talk about their club and the “Remus’ Wheelbarrow” workshops, thus encouraging secondary school students to participate. Some people attend the workshops every year. Others go only because their friends have decided to go, but they are not convinced that they will like the proposed form of the workshops. Stories told by friends who have already participated in the workshops also play an important role. One secondary school student who has participated in the “Remus’ Wheelbarrow” workshops three times relates that she found out about the first workshop from an older friend:

T18F(K): […] it was at the beginning of my first year in secondary school, and I went [to the workshop] alone. Straight from there, I went to the integration camp [of my class in secondary school], it was in the middle of the camp. […] And I started talking about how I went there and met those people. And when the declarations were made that they wanted to learn Kashubian here, [the teacher] said, “Girl, just go to another meeting and you will drag others with you.” And they liked that.

The coach drove off from the centre of Gdańsk and travelled across Kashubia, picking up groups of students from several secondary schools on the way. When they were getting on the bus, they were somewhat disoriented – they were not sure what they should expect and how they should treat students from other schools. Initially, all participants formed small groups consisting of students from the same school. On the way to the workshops, the Pomorania members tried to introduce elements of integration games, tell something about the workshops and initiate joint songs, but that did not bring about any significant results. The situation changed slightly when a group of last-year secondary school students got on the bus. They were not going to the workshop for the first time, so they knew what they should expect. They immediately started to joke loudly and then sing, and more people joined eagerly. The regulars helped the newcomers settle in.

When we arrived, we were accommodated in triple rooms. The participants chose their own roommates, so the accommodation solidified the existing groups, thus maintaining earlier divisions. Similarly, the existing social groups initially remained intact during meals. Practically no participants talked to students from other secondary schools. On the first evening, the organizers managed to partially overcome those divisions. We all gathered in a large, chilly hall where qualification projects and their authors were presented. The organizers introduced themselves and said a few words about their club and the workshop programme. I found it interesting (and disappointing) that most of the organizers knew Kashubian yet conducted all the classes in Polish. I wondered if I should call their attention to this ←184 | 185→fact in the evening, but I did not want to interfere in their plan, so I decided to see how the situation would develop.

The workshop started on the next day. The participants were divided into four smaller groups and allowed to choose which group they wanted to join. All the workshops were intended as both theoretical, or aimed at presenting Kashubian issues, and practical, with the participants being tasked with creating a work related to the topic (during the media workshop, for example, the organizers presented different programmes about Kashubs and Kashubian-language programmes, after which the participants were instructed to go to a nearby town and take a survey on the Kashubian life and Kashubs in that town).

Another organizer and I prepared a workshop focusing on sea-related topics. My part was more anthropological, his was more literary. I wanted to engage the participants in reflections on how closeness to the sea influenced the Kashubian culture and its image and how the Kashubs themselves defined themselves in relation to the sea. It turned out that very few of the participants felt connectedness to the sea, and some even said that they never went to the seaside. I felt that the secondary school students expected more of me, but I was not sure what I should do in that situation. So I thought I would use the time we spent sitting in a group of ten in a small room and started to ask them about what they did in their lives, why they had come to the workshops, what being Kashubs meant to them and what they thought about the Kashubian culture. Completely unexpectedly, a few people became very animated and started talking about themselves, about how they understood their Kashubian identity and above all about what annoyed them most about that culture. Two students were especially actively engaged in the discussion. It quickly turned out that they were actively involved in the promotion of the Kashubian culture, though in completely different ways: one was involved in the activity of the Kaszëbskô Jednota association and had very solidified views on the Kashubian reality and her words reflected the phrases used by her older friends; another was linked to a folk band in which he had been active for many years and which meant a lot to him. The argument that broke out between them gradually began to influence the students who had been initially more reserved and to engage them in the discussion. When my colleague came to redirect the discussion to literary topics, we all felt somewhat disappointed. At the same time, we knew that an important process had been initiated: that process was self-reflection.

The organizers had prepared three days filled with numerous attractions. From the first evening, the purpose was to engage people and force them to branch out of their safe groups and get to know others. Here is how one of the regular participants described the workshops, saying that the most important thing they offered was:

P19M(K): Openness, as simple as that. […] everything there is so informal. Regional workshops are always associated with something serious, with a trip, a visit to some activist, but we simply have fun there. […] We are on first-name terms with the organizers, there’s no rigorous rule requiring us to go bed at a certain hour. ←185 | 186→This trust and great openness, the fact that we don’t set any boundaries, that really everyone can come if they want to – that’s the only condition.

It appears that the workshops send out such a strong message specifically thanks to this voluntary aspect, these efforts to awaken interest in the Kashubian culture, sometimes among people who were previously completely uninterested in this topic (the workshop offered many people their first opportunity to consciously reflect on this issue when working on the projects to qualify for the workshop), gradual involvement in the proposed activities and even the formulation of proposals by the participants. As one secondary school student puts it:

X18M(K): You can talk to people more [there], about what it’s like, what they do, how they feel. We then come back home or to school full of… what do you call it… full of enthusiasm. We simply know what’s going on [in the Kashubian culture], we find out from other people and from each other.

The transformations in the group, the interactions between the participants and the spontaneous discussions about the Kashubian identity all demonstrated that this form proved itself well among young people. Also, my observations of the group dynamics indicated that an important role was played by individuals who already had links to Kashubian culture: they initiated discussions about the Kashubian identity, joined conversations and shared their opinions eagerly, thus encouraging others to express their opinions, initially in private situations, during conversations at the table, and then in larger groups. At the same time, I was left wanting more, even disappointed that the Kashubian language was not used during the workshops, that no one was fighting for it or even trying to use it. The interviews I had earlier taken showed that language played a much bigger role. For example, one secondary school student told me:

Y18M(K): […] I liked that a lot, because the form of those meetings was very interesting. Secondly, you could meet people with quite similar interests or people who had already started to take an interest in Kashubian topics. You could use the Kashubian language, because during other trips in which we take part one or two people can speak Kashubian, and others don’t understand anything. But there, you could speak Kashubian freely.

I wondered if that was how the young man had remembered the workshops in which he participated and Kashubian was indeed used there, or if perhaps he wanted to make me, a person interested in the Kashubian language and its use, feel better by saying that there were places where young people could speak this language. Kashubian activists were invited to the meeting on the last evening, and that changed a lot. The first statement was made in Polish. Since the organizers started the meeting in Polish, it was adopted as the language of the meeting without reflection. But the second speaker started speaking Kashubian, commenting that it was a language that everyone surely understood. What followed was what I had been waiting for – it was so simple that I started ←186 | 187→kicking myself for not reacting on the first day. After the second speaker’s statement, the discussions were held in Kashubian! Those who were not sufficiently fluent in Kashubian to engage in the conversation (or were not confident about their skills) answered in Polish, explaining why they had chosen Polish instead of Kashubian. When too many of such comments were made, one after another, and Polish gradually turned into the language of the meeting, the same activist (well-known for his consistent use of Kashubian) would speak out and introduce Kashubian again. Although it had seemed to me that this meeting was the weakest point of the workshops (offering the least room for interaction), it proved to mark a turning point in my observations. During the goodbye party in the night, groups of students who knew Kashubian used the language to communicate.

As this story serves to illustrate, “Remus’ Wheelbarrow” workshops and similar events organized by other minorities play two roles. First of all, they offer young people who have never met before a chance to establish friendships. Such meetings are organized against the backdrop of topics related to the Kashubian identity, so the relations that emerge between the participants are based on their attitudes not only to one another but also to Kashubian culture and (as it later turned out) to the Kashubian language. In this way, the group of young people linked to the Kashubian culture is growing. By sharing a certain point of reference, groups of people with similar interests may undertake new initiatives in Kashubia. They may also join existing groups of activists. Here is how one first-year university student who had participated in the workshops in secondary school summed them up:

P19M(K): Over these three years, I’ve made friends chiefly thanks to “Remus’ Wheelbarrow.” It means three or four days when we spend all the time with young people who are or will be interested in the Kashubian culture. So the way it starts is that we simply shift from ordinary conversations to topics linked to Kashubs, sometimes we even start speaking Kashubian, because that’s not something obvious at such meetings.

Of course, the influence of such workshops (as well as other possible activities in which young people can participate) depends on individual people, their openness to proposed topics and their willingness to join activities and participate in them and to make relevant friendships and cultivate them later on. For this reason, the organizer says cautiously that the goal of the workshops is attained if young people take even a slight interest in the Kashubian culture:

I22F(K): [During the “Remus’ Wheelbarrow” workshops], we try to make them somewhat more aware. Maybe not exactly of the language but mainly of the fact that they are from this region, of the history of this region, what makes it stand out, why it is important for us, why it should be important for them. For older people, being Kashubian is clearly in their blood, so we also want young people to feel that way too, to catch the bug.

←187 | 188→

From interest groups to activity-oriented communities

In recent years, many members of the Pomorania Students Club have been recruited from among the participants of the workshops, which offer young people a chance to see what the Club does and decide if they want to become involved. Previously, the Pomorania Students Club consisted only of people who had already taken an interest in Kashubia and Kashubian identity and looked for a suitable place and suitable company for themselves. Initially, many people who join the Club do not find active involvement important. It matters more for them to find a group of people like them with whom they have more in common than the fact of studying in the same city. That is how this was described by a Kashubian student who said that she felt lost at her faculty and could not join any social group. She declares that she had been unable to find a place for herself or make friends until she joined Pomorania:

I22F(K): […] to me, Kashubia means not only the language but also the entire system of values. I lost this system of values during my studies, because things really look completely different in the countryside. I’d already had such a system, I knew what I should or shouldn’t do. When I went to university, they did everything there that you shouldn’t do. I was completely stunned by that. Initially, I liked it, but then I decided I didn’t like that at all. I simply could find no common ground with those people. […] When I came to Pomorania, and those girls were like me, they had the same system of values, they thought in the same way, in the Kashubian way, so to speak, I decided I could see that not everyone was like those people at university, there were also people that I found normal and I would stick with them, because I felt better with them.

Therefore, those who join the club above all look for a group in which they feel at home. Those who come to Gdańsk from small Kashubian villages, where life follows a different rhythm, have problems that pertain to something else and neighbours create a certain local community, so it can be difficult for them to join new groups. Several people told me that they knew about the existence of the Pomorania Club from meetings in secondary schools, but they were initially reluctant to attend them.

G25F(K): As for Pomorania, I was generally afraid to go there, because I thought I couldn’t speak Kashubian well, and there would be people there [who] surely knew a lot, and if I, a poor girl from a village went there, what would I do there? I would only embarrass myself. But I mustered up the courage in my second year, and it was generally good. […] there was a family-like atmosphere, one that encouraged conversations in Kashubian. […] I found refuge in Pomorania, there is one place in the entire Tri-City area where you can speak Kashubian freely and do something together.

What plays a decisive role for the Club’s existence is specifically this aspect of a “family-like” atmosphere, the fact that its members can be people with whom they ←188 | 189→have something in common and to whom they feel closely connected through their language, origin and shared past experiences and – as something that gradually grows in importance with every meeting – through their involvement in shared activities. This young Kashubian woman also mentioned the possibility of using Kashubian. However, I could rarely hear Kashubian at the Pomorania meetings that I attended. Members of the Club explain that this is because they do not want to exclude people with a Kashubian identity who would like to become actively involved in the Kashubian culture and help create it but do not speak the language:

I22F(K): In Pomorania […] we rarely speak Kashubian, because essentially only a few people speak Kashubian well. Others say that they don’t want to, because they’re ashamed. And there are a few people who don’t speak Kashubian at all. They simply feel they are Kashubs, but they don’t speak Kashubian. So if something has to be done quickly, some ongoing issues need to be handled, we speak Polish. But for example if some guests visit us and they speak Kashubian, we try to speak Kashubian. But it is hard to make us talk to each other in Kashubian in a natural way.

By using a language that everyone knows, the Pomorania students want to, as they put it, show their respect for those who do not speak Kashubian. As shown by the example above, involving people switching to Kashubian under the influence of people who consistently use Kashubian regardless of the situation, such an approach may entail negative consequences from the perspective of breaking the ice and encouraging people to get to know the language. On the other hand, this makes those who do not have crystallized views on their Kashubian identity to settle into a new group more easily.

The Club’s image depends on the strong individuals who are its members and who form a group of committed members around themselves. When I started attending Pomorania’s meetings as part of my research in the early 2000s, the atmosphere in the Club was completely different. Those who led the way in the Club were students with very definite and quite radically expressed views on the Kashubian identity. The conversations were dominated by the Kashubian language, and those who did not agree with what was back then a very controversial attitude to the Kashubian culture (the treatment of Kashubian identity as separate from Polish identity) could not find a place for themselves in the club. At the initial stages of group membership, having a sense of security and mutual understanding is more important than sharing the idea of the promotion of a minority culture. The latter only grows in importance when all members feel well in the group and are certain of their activities and involvement. Before this happens, a sense of incompatibility and misunderstanding acts as a deterrent. One young woman who later became a Pomorania activist relates:

O24F(K): […] when I first met the Pomorania Students Club, I was devastated. I said I’d never go back.

NDR: Why not?

←189 | 190→

O24F(K): Because I met various kinds of people there. I met some I’d known before, and I liked their views on Kashubia, but I also met […] what we could call the separatist faction of young Kashubs. And I thought it was scary.

Pomorania brings together people with similar interests and views on issues related to their culture and its members gradually confirm and strengthen the ties that exist between them by undertaking consecutive activities, with young people believing that the Club’s most important value involves finding similar people. Having such a group not only motivates and encourages them to do something together but also makes members of the Club feel at home:

I22F(K): The people I stick with in Pomorania are close friends and I have better contacts with them, because I feel I’m happier with them than with someone else.

Such an approach is confirmed by the words of a young woman who had major concerns about joining the Club yet gradually joined more activities and acquired experience and skills that, as she puts it, she would not have acquired elsewhere with her personality.

NDR: When you became active here in the Pomorania Club, did you like such activity, this activity of organizing things, encouraging people…? Do you like that?

G25F(K): […] I generally didn’t like being active too much, I preferred to do what others told me to do than to decide what should be done. But over time, when different duties came, I had to start acting alone. Here, I kind of had to get things done. And I think it’s good, because that gave me a lot of experience and ease in handling different things.

Commitment and involvement in activities are the very reasons behind the Pomorania Club’s existence. Many people admit that they initially did not want to do that, they could not and they were afraid. At the same time, however, they observe that each task, each responsibility for doing a project, organizing an event or a meeting with other people, all of which required them to be part of a well-functioning team, made them identify with the Club more and more strongly. Without this sphere of joint action for a specific purpose, those individuals would have made friendships, but they would not have been forced to form a community of action. One young Kashubian woman describes how each task she received made her feel more and more strongly that she was part of the group:

I22F(K): […] the girls [from Pomorania] who were in charge back then would give us tasks. One, two, three [tasks]. So when we had those tasks, we had to come later to say if we did them or not. Gradually, that was how we settled down so well that we couldn’t imagine a week without a Pomorania meeting and we also felt that what we were doing there was important, needed, and that it was indeed good that we were there.

The Pomorania Students Club is a community of practice (Wenger, 1998) that is joined by more and more people who learn from other activists what they should ←190 | 191→do and how. Individuals, even if they hold very strong views and are strongly convinced of the need to promote the Kashubian language, cannot achieve much on their own. By supporting its members and making them feel they are not alone, the group also gives young people a sense that everything is possible. At the same time, the ideas and personalities of all members influence how the Club operates, what characteristics it takes on and how it is perceived by others. A community of practice can function specifically because of the bonds that are formed between its members in various spheres and these bonds are then gradually transformed into more profound relations. As a result of these relations, activity is seen as something pleasurable. Here is how one female member of the Club describes this aspect:

M22F(K): Sure, you could do something by yourself, but a group has more strength and encourages you more. We have the courage to break through. We have a chance to organize something, to get help from our friends, to create something. So I think that the likelihood of doing something good for Kashubian culture is much higher than when you’re working by yourself. Besides, it is fun when you do it together with friends.

Teamwork and participation in a community of practice are very important from the educational standpoint. According to the theory of situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991), on the one hand, individuals learn by functioning within a certain set of specific activities and behaviours and acquire information and skills related to the activities they perform and to the ways in which they are prepared. On the other hand, by doing work that brings specific and visible results (for example when the former participants in the “Remus’ Wheelbarrow” workshops later join the Club once they go to university), people start seeing the importance of being active. Above all, those who become involved begin to understand that active participation in social and cultural life makes sense, brings effects and offers measurable benefits. One member of the Club relates:

N22M(K): In my studies […] I saw such things could be done and it was not beyond reach, all these things could be done with little cost and with few people, but you had a certain influence over everything. […] here in Pomorania, I’ve learnt that things can be done, if you only want it, you have an influence over everything that will happen later.

The Pomorania Students Club is unique in that it is directly affiliated with the Kashubian-Pomeranian Association, meets in a room in the Kashubian House [Dom Kaszubski] in Gdańsk and remains linked to the broader organizations in many ways. Its goal involves actively promoting and supporting Kashubia and the Kashubian language. There are many students clubs affiliated with universities (for example, the Kejadenn Association at the University of Rennes 2, which ←191 | 192→brings together students of the Breton language46), but not all of them are directly focused on action. Many of them were founded to give people who pursue similar activities (studying a minority language) or belong to the same group (speaking this language and identifying with a minority culture) a chance to meet, spend some time together and strengthen their identity. Joint action takes on different forms: from social meetings, through the cultivation of customs, to preparation of actions and the organization of the life of members of a specific minority. Such activities and their effects nonetheless are less important than the fact that they are done together and it is always possible to ask friends for support or simply spend the time together in an enjoyable way. Currently, this is the nature of the Sorabija club at the University of Leipzig, which has the only Sorbian studies program in Germany.

When I asked students what the Sorabija club did, I initially received specific answers: organizing the artistic part of the Schadźowanka – yearly meetings of the Sorbian intelligentsia, as well as cultural events and lectures devoted to Sorbian issues in Leipzig, preparing the celebrations of Sorbian customs outside Lusatia. After that, young people mention that membership in the club allows them to spend time with people who know one another and come from the same region:

P22M(S): […] we cultivate all these Sorbian customs here in Leipzig, which is not something obvious. For example, we erect a maypole and then celebrate, there are dances and a festivity. Apart from that, [we celebrate] if someone has a birthday, we often sit together in Centrifuga, where we often talk or play games, watch TV. It’s similar to a youth club to which young people come.

The club is seated in Centrifuga, a club created in the common room on the Sorbian floor of the hall of residence in Leipzig. In addition to attending several cultural events organized by the club, I not only visited Cetrifuga every time I went to Leipzig but also lived there briefly sometimes. During the day, the club is very calm, so I could take the opportunity to carry out interviews with students, talk ←192 | 193→and drink tea. Meetings attended by more people take place in the evenings. Sometimes a few people meet to play card games or talk. Some students decide to meet via Facebook (previously by word of mouth) and throw parties in Centrifuga that end late in the night and are filled with Sorbian songs and discussions about the future of the Sorbian language. One university student of Sorbian studies said that she believed the most important thing about the club was:

O21F(S): […] the community. The evenings when we sit together, have interesting conversations. Sometimes, but not very often, we discuss certain things [related to the Sorbian identity]. It’s very interesting to be able to exchange opinions with other people.

The community of Sorbian (and Sorbian-speaking) students is largely based on the time that they spend together, the feeling that they can rely on others. Coupled with occasional active involvement in certain activities, this plays an important community-forming role:

A18F(S): There is this strong bond between us. If I want to talk to someone, I come to the club and I can always find someone to talk to. We simply feel this bond. After spending all day at the university, attending lectures, when we learn, we can sit together in the evening, play some games or simply talk.

One distinctive characteristic of the Sorabija club is that most students from Lusatia, especially those studying Sorbian studies and all the students who live on the Sorbian floor of the hall of residence (where most of the students who do not want distance themselves from their culture try to live), become members of the club. Many students declare that they knew about Sorabija’s existence (from their older siblings, friends and relatives) even before they came to Leipzig, while others did not find out about the club until they arrived:

P22M(S): Before I went to university, I didn’t know it existed. When I started [my studies], there was this first evening for first-year students: more senior students made sure to inform all those who were new in Leipzig. First, there was this first official evening when you had to declare, “Yes, I want to be in the Sorabija association,” and drink this vodka that was very strong and burnt your throat. It’s a ritual that means you’re now in.

A different student relates that joining the club is very important for those who start these studies, because it allows them to find a group of people with whom they will spend their time in the coming years and establish strong bonds.

L24M(S): At the beginning, when I was a new member, it was something very important. From the very beginning I felt welcomed; I got to know all of these people there. When they went out to celebrate, I went out with them and this way I got to know others. In Leipzig the club also has a certain opinion and when you say that you’re in Sorabija, the [reaction is as follows:] “Oh, he belongs to the Sorbs.” In this company, you become more active than when you try to do something by yourself.

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The young man points out that membership of the club facilitates self-identification with the community with which they spend their time and organize joint activities. Also, outsiders see membership of Sorabija as a demonstration of Sorbian identity. Joining the club also means becoming gradually involved in the group’s customs and activities and passing them on to others, who may modify and alter them, but not reject them. One student admits that the group makes it easier to be active. Another student even says that separation from the Sorbian environment and membership of a community that must reaffirm its Sorbian identity with respect to the German environment are exactly what causes the young people who were not actively involved in Lusatia to start joining different activities in Leipzig and gradually realize that such an attitude gives them more than passivity:

I22F(S): Well, here in Leipzig, everyone is involved. Everyone takes part in our customs here. Everyone is in Sorabija, organizing the carnival. Well, not everyone, but most people. Things definitely look different than at home.

NDR: But why is it the case that everyone [is involved] here, but very few people there?

I22F(S): Because this means learning in a group. Really, everyone can join Sorabija. After that, things are automatic. At home, there are no youth associations that we could join.

Obviously, it is not true that there are no youth organizations of this type in Lusatia. There are various associations that do organize Sorbian customs or activities for young people, for example the Pawk association. But as long as young people are at home, in a homogenous area inhabited by the Sorbs, they do not have to confirm or prove their identity, unlike in Leipzig. Membership of the club also offers support within a group to which young people feel linked. Creating a space where individuals can meet with other people with whom they share their minority identity and where they feel that more people are in a similar situation and they can do more together is very important, especially for young people who feel they may be alone in their identity-related choices.

Eisteddfod – reinforcing a sense of belonging to a community through cultural practices

The Welsh word eisteddfod (meaning a “session,” plural eisteddfodau) refers to a festival of Welsh culture and language. The practice dates back to the Middle Ages, with the first records of a session of bardic poetry and concerts for the Welsh aristocracy coming from 1176 (Davies, 1998). The living traditions gradually died out, but were revived in the 18th century on the wave of the Romantic search for roots, and so blossomed in the form of an “invented tradition,” as a many-day competition and Welsh cultural event (Morgan, 1983). Since then, the festival tradition has changed its form and undergone transformations, while retaining its important role as a point of reference for the Welsh national identity. There are nowadays ←194 | 195→numerous local eisteddfod festivals, as well as larger events, the Urdd Eisteddfod – a youth competition, and the National Eisteddfod – a week-long event.

Carol Trosset (1993: 42) writes that this type of festival “is felt to be an enactment of fundamental elements of Welsh culture” and as such might serve as a basis for analyses of the Welsh identity. This is why the eisteddfod festivals play a more important role than the symbolical functions associated with invented traditions – it serves as the foundation of Welsh identity and a way to express it. In their form, the eisteddfodau have adjusted to the requirements of the present-day Welsh culture and reflect political and identity-related transformations within the Welsh community and the Welsh movement. For this reason, the eisteddfod festival is perceived by many as a “microcosm of all that is Welsh” (Bernard, 2003: 34). A present-day eisteddfod not only involves Welsh competitions in traditional dances, songs, music and poetry but also offers a place for rivalry in natural or mathematical sciences, modern dance competitions, performances by bands of young musicians (on the condition that the songs are performed in Welsh), creative writing competitions and so on. Thanks to their well-established role in society, repetitive nature and the meanings they convey, eisteddfod festivals may be interpreted a constant reconstruction of Welsh identity (Edensor, 2002).

When we look at how the eisteddfod festivals function at various levels of Welsh social life, their consecutive manifestations, the place that they occupy in the (Welsh and British) media and above all numerous references to the eisteddfoddau in the statements made by the people I interviewed (both on and off the record), it clearly emerges that the festival plays a constitutive role for today’s Welsh identity – through its symbolical form and through how it shapes the attitudes of those who belong to the community. Drawing on and invoking the traditions of Welsh culture and making references to history currently appear to play a lesser role than the permanent presence of eisteddfoddau in the life of Welsh-speaking children and the relations that are developed during such festivals between speakers of Welsh.

In fact, an eisteddfod entails a lot more than a week-long festival that brings together the Welsh elite. It is an entire network of meetings, competitions and games that take place throughout the year across Wales and engage people from all social classes and of all age groups. In the course of my research, I took part in different eisteddfodau. I went to two school-level meetings. I went to one of these meetings (in Mid Wales) together with a friend of mine – an activist and a mother of children who take part in the festival’s competitions – so I had the opportunity to find out about the organizational aspects and talk to the parents of the children performing at the festival. During the second meeting (in North Wales), I was an observer watched and warmly received by the local community. As a person who did not speak Welsh and appeared at an event for people who knew one another well and formed a relatively closed community, I garnered quite a bit of attention. I also participated in a student eisteddfod in Aberystwyth, the Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff and the National Eisteddfod in South Wales. I talked to people who did not go eisteddfodau, as well as to regular visitors, contestants, organizers, judges and volunteers (many people played all those roles in different moments of their lives). ←195 | 196→All of them, regardless of the level of their engagement, said the same thing: when they thought about Wales and being Welsh, they pictured an eisteddfod, in its different forms.

An eisteddfod is difficult to define, because it comprises both competitions and shows as well as community meetings. It is a grand performance that engages everyone who comes to the festival: participants, observers and service staff. It forms a broad network of connections, styles of participation and involvement, between people who are linked to the event in different ways. For many people, an eisteddfod is a style of life in the Welsh culture. This was probably described most comprehensively by one Welsh secondary school student:

Y16F(W): Eisteddfod […] it’s a big part of every Welsh child’s life. […], we go to the Eisteddfod to feel this atmosphere, it is so nice there, there are all these little shops around this place and concerts. I danced the Welsh dances until I was 12 and that was my way of me being Welsh [laugh]. The stereotype! But that’s true! In the end, it gives us confidence that we are a nation, cause as every typical nation we have our own songs and tradition. And we learn how to perform. […] In England you don’t have that, so you don’t have the opportunity to learn it. It is very special. You have these experiences and that you did it with all these people. And that they all are Welsh. And it’s nice. When you are at the Eisteddfod, you have days and days when you just speak Welsh and don’t say a single word in English. And it’s great, I love that.

The life of Welsh children largely revolves around preparations for competitions, school and local preliminaries, which are a great experience for the children, and finally the trips to the Urdd Eisteddfod and the National Eisteddfod. Rivalry between children is not very important – what matters is the possibility of experiencing the Welsh culture: Welsh dances, songs, recitations and team activities. As one secondary school student puts it, this was “a way to be Welsh.” This is particularly important, because – apart from school and after-school Welsh-language activities organized by various associations – the life of many children does not differ from the lives of their peers. They often speak the same language, even when they talk to their parents, go to the same places and watch the same television programmes as other British children. One girl who is now actively involved in political efforts to promote the Welsh language regards this method of confirming the Welsh identity as stereotypical. She herself feels surprised that she has said this, but a moment later she confirms that this is indeed how she feels – that this is the most important and conscious aspect of her Welsh childhood. Another aspect involves developing a collective identity, also a national identity, confirmed by mythical and symbolical support as well as traditions and history that everyone knows and refers to (Smith, 1986). National awareness and the reconstruction of national identity emerge through participation in and references to the eisteddfod festivals both in daily life and practices (school activities, performances, media messages) and in joint celebrations (the National Eisteddfod) (Edensor, 2002). Also, there are the practical skills that children acquire during competitions and the characteristic ←196 | 197→socialization of Welsh-speaking children in a performative culture (Trosset, 1993). Many of the individuals I interviewed mentioned that the experience of performing on stage, which almost every Welsh-speaking child has, influenced their future public activity. The secondary school student quoted above also stressed that participation in performances distinguished the Welsh from the English, who had to develop their talents individually. Another aspect mentioned by the young woman refers to the relations that develop between the Welsh-speaking participants in eisteddfod festivals and the emerging values related to their functioning within a community. Participants in eisteddfodau feel that they are there together, for the same reasons and for the same purpose. The bonds between them are confirmed and strengthened by the Welsh language, which is used by everyone and distinguishes them from those “on the outside” – outside the festival, outside the community. Although the relationship between the eisteddfod festivals and the Welsh language has manifested itself in numerous ways throughout history and has not always been obvious (cf. Bernard, 2003), it now not only has symbolical importance for young people raised in the times of devolution and activities aimed at preserving the Welsh language and stimulating its development but also gives them the sense that there is a time and place in which Welsh is the primary language of communication.

Consequently, eisteddfodau organize the lives of Welsh-speakers and Welsh-learners (for more information about the role of eisteddfodau for language learners, see Newcombe, 2007). All Welsh-speaking and bilingual schools collaborate with Urdd, a youth organization that prepares local competitions. Practically all Welsh-speaking children take part in such competitions, regardless of whether they want to perform on stage and enjoy doing so. Depending on their skills, they may take part in sports or science competitions, recitations, dances, musical shows… One of my sources, L., a 20-year-old student of Welsh from North Wales, relates with a flush spread over her face that when she was a child, she wanted to participate in all competitions and her parents had to stop her. She believes that the families in the Welsh-speaking world could be divided into what she calls “eisteddfod families” and “non-eisteddfod families,” or those that become involved in eisteddfod festivals and try to participate at many levels, vs. those whose involvement is limited to taking children to additional classes that prepare them for competitions and then to the competitions. Her family was definitely an eisteddfod family, so the whole of her life had been guided by participation in various competitions:

L20F(W): Every Saturday we go to this small eisteddfod, in different communities. Usually, it is either in the village hall or in the chapel. And then you just compete. And then you get the results, and you get small awards, like 50 pence. It is like that every week. […] The small eisteddfod starts around October and lasts until April. There is a few months’ break. Besides this period, everything was about eisteddfod. And in between, we prepared for a big Eisteddfod.

Some related that they participated in school eisteddfodau only because their teachers had made them, but they did not like it. One university student relates:

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U22M(W): Everybody had to be in a choir. It was different between primary school and secondary school. In primary school we really enjoyed it. And then you realize you cannot sing. And you stuck with reciting, but you’re not a poet. And you become less motivated to do it personally. You still enjoy watching it. But you don’t want to be on the stage and compete yourself.

For small children, the eisteddfod competitions are quite an experience. Some love it, others are afraid to perform on stage and try to participate only in group performances. After months of trials, when the time comes for local competitions, all members of the local community gather in the schools, halls or other places where the competitions are held. Everyone has someone linked to eisteddfod competitions: a child, a grandchild, a nephew. Watching the competitions is not exactly exciting (only the parents are excited, and only when their own children are performing) – one after another, children sing the same songs, recite and dance… As soon as their children walk off stage (often only to return later on to take part in another competition), many parents go to a nearby pub where they comment on the school shows with a certain detachment. But when I once tried to find out what they think about that, they all went out of their way to explain to me, an outsider who does not understand the distinctive aspects of local life, why preserving the Welsh culture would not be possible without eisteddfodau. They said that thanks to Urdd children not only learn Welsh songs and dances (the traditional culture) but above all have a place where they can speak the Welsh language outside school. They explained that they themselves took part in eisteddfod competitions, and so they knew that Welsh culture was not the same as English culture, and they try to convince me that they cannot imagine their children could not being involved. The discussion was interrupted by one of the parents shouting that the dance competition is about to start. We all came back to the room to watch the children exerting themselves on stage. From their perspective, an eisteddfod festival is just a bit of fun. But from the perspective of later years in their lives, it may take on symbolical significance. L., who believes that participation in eisteddfodau is a style of life, explains:

L20F(W): [I started when] I was about 4–5 years old starting out. And since then I have been doing it all the time, so I’ve got experience. This year I perform, too, so we have already started rehearsals. There is the Eisteddfod yr Urdd, that’s for children, from about 4 years old to about 21. And there is the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol [National Eisteddfod], and that’s the oldest type of eisteddfod. With old people, in their 80s as well as 5-year-old children doing it. It’s a big tradition, and that is a sort of celebration of Welsh culture and language, really. Because mostly everyone there is Welsh-speaking and you hear it around the hills everywhere. It is a big festival. And everyone is Welsh speaking there, and people come from all of Wales.

NDR: Do you like it?

L20F(W): Oh, definitely. I don’t know what I would do without it. It’s a part of my life. And everybody knows what an eisteddfod is. Without that, it would be really ←198 | 199→different. It is really important to celebrate and to remember that we’ve got still a living language, really.

The fact that “everybody knows what an eisteddfod is” plays a very strong symbolical community-forming role. All Welsh people – regardless of whether they are actively involved in eisteddfodau, visit them as viewers or know Welsh – can refer to the competitions as a foundation for the Welsh culture and its medium. Of course, outside local festivals, where everyone knows everyone, rivalry plays a more important role. Those who take part in these competitions are the winners of the lower-level competitions. During the Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff, I had the impression that everyone was tenser. However, the regulars explained to me that the location also influenced the atmosphere of the competitions. After the main competitions, I felt that the tension had eased and the participants, in particular the older ones, behaved like everyone their age – they were attempting to escape the control of the organizers and guardians. At some point, I even started to get the impression I was at a sort of youth camp, where everyone knew everyone well and joked and took part in the activities organized for them only because they were already there. The competitions may also be seen as a pretext to meet people from other schools and other places in Wales.

Also, the competitions play a role for the secondary school students interested in Welsh culture by helping them choose their path in life, because they give them a chance to test themselves and to be assessed by authorities outside school. One university student of Welsh relates:

G19F(W): I had the idea to study music and history, but as for studying Welsh at the university, I wasn’t sure. But it made a difference when I went to the end of the competition in the Urdd Eisteddfod and got first place in the scriptwriting competition. And I think that gave me a bit of confidence. And then I felt that I could do it. Because it is different. When you’re in school, the feedback from teachers at school it’s different than having a prize from someone who doesn’t know you. So that was a big shock, but at the same time, it made me realize that ok, I am quite good at this, maybe I should carry on with this.

In turn, the atmosphere of university-level competitions is completely casual and social, as if everyone realized that the competitions are simply games, something “you do because you are Welsh,” but they should be taken with a certain grain of salt. Very few people want to make it to the National Eisteddfod, or at least very few people want to show they care about doing so.

The National Eisteddfod is an event that takes place at many different levels. One of them is formed by the people who organize the event – the institutions and organizations that make sure that the festival is logistically and financially prepared, the contestants and their loved ones, the organizers and hordes of volunteers. Many of them are recruited locally in the area where the festival is organized in a given year. It is held in a different place and in a different part of Wales every year – alternately in the north and in the south, making it possible ←199 | 200→to involve new people in its organization, and also giving inhabitants of different parts of Wales who do not go to all the competitions a pretext to come and see the National Eisteddfod. This also has an impact on the image of Wales, which is seen by many as heterogeneous, even divided. As one student puts it:

U22M(W): It’s a good way to get to know your country better. Because it is in a different location every year, so you go there. Otherwise, I wouldn’t spend all week in some of these places.

When the National Eisteddfod is organized in a given area, Welsh-speaking individuals, especially those involved in different forms of promoting the Welsh language, regardless of their profession and social status, drop or reschedule all their occupations and engagements to become actively involved in the preparations. I asked a friend of mine who is a lecturer at Bangor University if we would meet at a certain regularly held academic conference, as we usually did. She replied, “You know, I won’t be able to come, because this year the Eisteddfod will be near where I live and I will be needed there.” Everyone in Wales understands this explanation. Volunteers do everything: they organize accommodation, help with the logistics, sell the tickets, and help people navigate their way across the vast site with tents and stalls featuring presentations of people and institutions.

Preparations for the National Eisteddfod are grand in style. The festival occupies a huge area that is always located outside a city. There is a specially designated area where competitions and accompanying lectures are held, Welsh institutions present their achievements and organizations encourage people to become members. A large pink tent is where the most important performances and presentations play out – here is where the festival is opened and closed, the winners receive prizes and appear on stage again and the most prestigious competitions take place, including the “chairing of the bard”47. Some people come to the National Eisteddfod specifically to watch the shows and therefore book seats near the stage. But the eisteddfod life is particularly vibrant outside the main tent, with crowds of visitors moving along designated alleys or, if it is raining, running from one place to another. Dance, song and recitation competitions take place in numerous tents. Other tents host displays of scientific experiments. Still others accommodate stands for learners of Welsh (and the competitions organized specifically for them) – here is where they can find out where they can continue their education most effectively and how. There is an art tent where the most important Welsh artists present their paintings, installations and audio-visual displays. All Welsh-language institutions set up stands, where visitors are encouraged to study at different Welsh universities that present their programmes and stipends for speakers of Welsh as well as organize a number of lectures and discussions devoted to studies of the Welsh language. Educational, social and cultural organizations also have stands. Many of ←200 | 201→them organize meetings or shows prepared by their members. Welsh publishers present new publications and local producers, craftsmen and artists showcase and sell their products. Several tents put on plays in Welsh, for which the actors (both amateurs and professionals) prepare for many months. There is also a place for folk music concerts and the sale of CDs. At the back, there is a small stage for artists playing all sorts of music. There are small children jumping on the grass outside the stage, and groups of people sitting or standing at tables, eating and drinking local beverages sold from trailers. There is a different type of music coming from every corner and people are variously engaged, making their way between the stands, performances and presentations, with or without a plan. Here is how one Welsh student described this:

O20M(W): There is nothing better than the Eisteddfod. It brings all people together, associations, charities, political parties… we are all on top of it. […] Maybe it is expensive, but does it matter? The word eisteddfod means more than the physical stuff that we are doing. It’s the feeling you get, it’s seeing people for the first time, meeting people you haven’t seen for a long time, networking between institutions and associations, competing. It’s the feeling rather than a festival. It’s not about the physical stuff, but about emotions.

In addition to the festival site, there is also a campsite that is located at a certain distance and occupied chiefly by young people. Close to the campsite, there is another tent with a music stage where young Welsh bands and sometimes even friendly bands from across the world play concerts into the late-night or early-morning hours. The atmosphere here resembles that of the Woodstock festival – there is a lot of alcohol and exuberant dancing, with groups of young people sitting outside the tents, playing the guitar and singing. Consequently, the National Eisteddfod takes place at several levels also in the social sense – there are official presentations and competitions, and every guest receives a programme of the events, which take place simultaneously in many places. Queues for some performances, especially theatrical performances in small tents, and the most important competitions start to form long before their beginning. As for other events, visitors are free to come and leave during the shows. In parallel with the official programme, there are unofficial meetings whose importance is even greater than that of the official activities, prepared meticulously many months in advance. People go to the National Eisteddfod to meet other people, whom they may know or not know, talk, drink beer and engage in discussions on the situation of Wales and the Welsh language. Here is how one student described the atmosphere of the festival:

I19F(W): One part of it is seeing so many people that you don’t see often because it brings everyone from all of the country together. […] And also, it’s a massive cultural festival, so there is so much of everything around, there is art there, children singing over there. It’s just a lovely feel, apart from when somebody does not win [laugh].

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The National Eisteddfod has many participants. Most of them are students and observers, who come to spend some time at the festival, feel its atmosphere. The national event always takes place in early August to allow everyone to come and participate. Some people attend every year for a week with their families, friends and children, with trailers or tents, and treat the festival as an important part of their summer holidays. There are also people who reserve spots for their trailers many months before the festival to make sure that there will be enough space for them. Others, especially young people, make arrangements with their friends, camp out and sleep in tents, take part in competitions, in particular in the concerts of Welsh bands after dusk. Still others come to the festival for a day or two to assess the organizational aspects. They usually come to see the most important events (such as the chairing of the bard) that take place in the last days of the festival. But there are also people who come just to see for themselves what the festival is all about, because they live nearby. It is estimated that the festival site is visited by around 20,000 people every day.

Young people stress that those who meet at the National Eisteddfod come from all over Wales, but they also note that many of the visitors are regulars. They have the impression that these are largely the same people linked to the Welsh culture and Wales, for whom presence at the festival carries not only social but also symbolical significance. One teenager even opines that it is hard to meet new people at the National Eisteddfod:

H16M(W): I don’t know if you will meet new people there, because in the Eisteddfod you always meet the same old people. You go walking there, and you always meet the ones you met two years ago.

At the same time, as a result of the festival’s repetitive nature and the fact that it attracts specific people who share something – not so much a common vision of Wales, because these may be completely different, but rather a conviction that they should cultivate and manifest their Welshness – the eisteddfod participants quickly form bonds:

U22M(W): When you go to the Eisteddfod, you see people from all of Wales. You see them every year there, cause they support it every year. So those people who go to the Eisteddfod, they form a community.

Those who do not want to or cannot come to the festival in person can watch detailed coverage of the event on the Welsh channel S4C, which broadcasts many of the performances live, carries interviews with guests and authorities on issues related to the Welsh world as well as discussions on the decisions of the judges. Before the Welsh-language channel was established, the festival was covered by the BBC. The fact that programmes devoted to the National Eisteddfod were shifted to a channel that is intended not only for the Welsh, but above all for speakers of Welsh, reinforced the message of the creation of an imagined community of Welsh-speaking individuals (cf. Browne, 2005). The role that the mass media play in this respect cannot be stressed enough. Whether directly or indirectly, the media ←202 | 203→convey ideas needed to create and preserve the recipients’ collective identity. On the one hand, they recreate the conviction that a specific community really exists and that certain individuals (recipients) belong to that community. On the other hand, they shape the identity of a group – in this case, people who are happy and enthusiastic about their culture and who speak Welsh (cf. Jones, 2007). Thanks to television, all those who identify with being Welsh may follow the National Eisteddfod’s program, the related events, in a sense the festival’s atmosphere and most definitely weather, which is always discussed extensively.

Since the National Eisteddfod is a calling card of Welsh identity, the festival also carries political significance. On the one hand, politicians and parties appear at the festival and argue that their platform is good for Wales. On the other hand, the National Eisteddfod itself also becomes a subject of political discussions. It the mid-20th century, a controversial rule was introduced, making Welsh the only permitted language of the festival. Many people believe that the rule excludes people and creates divisions in Welsh society, because it limits the festival participation of those who identify with Welshness yet do not speak Welsh. They argue that if the National Eisteddfod is to be a prism through which the Welsh nation should be seen, it should be open to everyone who feels part of it (cf. Watkins, 2007: 181–182). Others stress that the observance of this rule is the only thing that prevents the festival from being dominated by the English language, whose presence would marginalize the use of the minority language.

The people I interviewed, who not only are involved in activities promoting the Welsh culture but also speak Welsh, have well-established views on this issue. The ubiquity of the Welsh language and the possibility of meeting people who not only have the same interests but also speak the same language and belong to the same minority are exactly what makes the atmosphere of the festival so special.

D20F(W): It is such a unique week and place, we are all together. It’s a week when basically everybody speaks Welsh. And all these people get together in one place. And it’s about celebrating being Welsh and speaking Welsh.

This young woman argues that the National Eisteddfod is about “celebrating […] speaking Welsh” – the purpose is not only to cultivate traditions or even meet friends but also to find people who are in the same situation and feel stronger together:

D20F(W): It is where you meet friends, and you can keep the language going. People see that there are people out there who are doing the same and it is important for them. Because here, no one actually speaks Welsh, if you go to a party or a seminar, there is no Welsh. But when you are at the Eisteddfod, everyone speaks Welsh.

Many young people complain that Welsh is a socially accepted language only as long as it is used in specially designated areas. They relate that they have met with unpleasant reactions, for example when they addressed a shopkeeper in Welsh. During the National Eisteddfod, by contrast, speaking Welsh comes as no surprise – it is the rule. I was often accosted by people who asked me questions, to ←203 | 204→which I replied shyly, “Dwi ddim yn siarad Cymraeg” (I don’t speak Welsh). Such an answer sometimes provoked a grimace of disgust, so I quickly added (in Welsh) that I was from Poland. The sense that Welsh is not merely a language that can be used on equal terms but also the most important language of the festival is important to young people:

Y16F(W): Because you take part in all these activities and you meet people who speak Welsh all the time, you get used to it, and you start to think you don’t need to speak English, at least in some circumstances.

Young people claim that since Welsh is not forced and it can be heard everywhere and the activities in which they participate (both officially and unofficially) are linked to the Welsh culture and take place in the Welsh and Welsh-speaking community, they develop a stronger sense of their identity. That is because this sense shaped by interactions with others. As one student puts it:

L20F(W): […] in the past few years you hear more of it [English language]. But when you go to the Eisteddfod, everyone’s Welsh and it’s really nice cause you just feel more Welsh.

Some even believe that participation in the National Eisteddfod bears testimony to an individual’s Welsh identity. Welshness is reinforced by participation in the festival, which confirms links to the culture and the nation.

R20M(W): The Eisteddfod is what we do to show that we are Welsh. You’re taking part in all these activities to show that you’re a part of this, to show that you are Welsh.

During the National Eisteddfod, Welshness manifests itself in different ways. Just as there are many ways to participate in the festival, there are also many Welsh identities (Davies, 1998: 151). The festival is a place both for those who confirm their Welshness by participating in traditional Welsh cultural activities and for those who are just starting to think about themselves in terms of belonging to a specific nation by having fun and spending their time with people who identify with Welshness. All the people who are actively involved in the National Eisteddfod admit that the festival strengthens their Welsh identity. But there is more:

I19F(W): I think it [Eisteddfod] is a sense of national pride because it’s a part of our cultural history. Everybody knows that the Welsh are good at singing. So this is a kind of proof that they are.

Depending on the age and the group of people with they come to the festival and the people they encounter, festival-goers can discover their Welsh identity in different ways, and this identity can have different characteristics. Those who come to the National Eisteddfod are people active in the Welsh culture – politicians, associations that present their activity and finally hordes of Welsh activists who try to persuade other visitors to support the promotion of the Welsh culture and ←204 | 205→the Welsh language financially or through active participation. According to an activist with Cymdeithas yr Iaith, an eisteddfod is a place where it is possible to recruit new members:

E25F(W): We do use the eisteddfod, the two festivals, the National and Urdd Eisteddfod [to recruit new members]. We send our volunteers there, we hold events throughout the week, from the opening events to rallies. We speak to people, trying to get them to join and to see what they can do in their area.

Many of the Welsh activists I talked to confirmed that the National Eisteddfod marked a turning point in their lives. During the festival, they met and made friends with people who had already participated in the Welsh movement and for the first time thought consciously that they could become actively involved in the promotion of the Welsh language. A Welsh student and activist says:

B20M(W): I think I joined Plaid Cymru, the National Party and Cymdeithas yr Iaith at the same time, at the Eisteddfod, when I was 17.

It is also possible to join the community of Welsh-speaking activists through participation in the National Eisteddfod in a different way. One young Welsh man who comes from a “non-eisteddfod family” relates that he first came to the festival because he had taken an interest in Welsh politics and concluded that he had to see what the National Eisteddfod really looked like. Participation in the festival made him more active also in his Welsh-language school, and so he returned to the festival, this time as a participant:

W18M(W): Since I got a little bit more involved with Welsh politics, I started to be more involved also with everything to do with Welsh culture. And they kind of dragged me into the choir and we went to the Eisteddfod. And I started to enjoy it then.

We can wonder what makes young people with certain links to Welshness and the Welsh language decide to switch from a passive stance to active involvement during a week-long camp. To someone like me, who went to the National Eisteddfod together with people who were already involved in Welsh culture, the answer is obvious. Young people who invest their free time and energy in becoming actively involved in Welsh culture feel that they have found people close to them, who have similar experiences and similar interests. Active involvement provides the basis for and complements the social and friendly relations that are developed between the participants in the festival and that young people would like to have also in their everyday lives. During the festival, young people join a group that consists of people brought together by the Welsh language and their willingness to spend time together. One university student from a non-Welsh-speaking family said that during the National Eisteddfod she saw for the first time that there were many people in the same situation as her and that they were enthusiastic about their second language. Here is how this student defines the newly-discovered sense of belonging to a community:

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D20F(W): Eisteddfod [is important] because everybody is together, just enjoying together the Welsh language. No matter where you are, you can be in the pub, you can be in the field, on a bus, but as long as people are gathering and enjoying, using the Welsh language, they’re together feeling the same thing.

Minority communities of practice: language, education, identity

Communities of practice are one of the most important types of group that young people form and through which they forge and strengthen their collective identity (also as a minority group). The notion of “communities of practice” was posited by Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger, who analysed social learning methods. The concept is therefore linked to the theory of “situated learning” (Lave & Wenger, 1991), which holds that “learning [is] not […] a process of socially shared cognition that results in the end in the internalization of knowledge by individuals, but as a process of becoming a member of a sustained community of practice” (Lave, 1991: 65). Communities of practice are groups of people formed around shared efforts or work, who “develop and share […] practices – as a function of their joint involvement in mutual activity” (Eckert & Wenger, 1994: 2), during which the identities of those participating in such practices are formed. In Wenger’s formulation, communities of practice must meet three requirements. First of all, their members must interact at different levels, and through these interactions mutual engagement is formed. Secondly, all the participants must share certain endeavours and practices that are referred to as a joint enterprise. Thirdly, those participating in a community of practice must have a shared repertoire of resources related to language, style and routines though which they express their identity as group members (Wenger, 1998: 72–85).

Forming such a community of practice requires something more than the motivation of individuals. The individuals must unite in their pursuit of a common goal and in order to unite, they must meet and establish relations, find a place for themselves in their engagement and start working together. Communities of practice are therefore formed in places in which individuals must spend more time together and engage in various types of interactions. A community is formed around such places and the individuals that appear there are gradually included into this community. As a result of working together and engaging in shared activities, people can benefit from their participation in a group, and new individuals, by contributing to the achievement of the community’s goals, internalize its ideology and become strongly linked to it (McIntosh & Youniss, 2010: 31). Young people from minority cultures form different types of communities of practice that are or are not institutionally rooted. Such communities may be found both in amateur theatre or musical groups as well as in youth organizations that arrange for activities for others. The aforementioned students clubs can be also regarded as communities of practice.

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One example of a community of practice par excellence that I would like to present here is the Diwan immersion secondary school. This unique school is where young people spend most of their time, because they live in a residential house48 that is located in a building next to the school, learn in Breton, participate in numerous school and after-school activities and remain under the influence of the Breton movement’s discourse. The Diwan students learn not only the Breton language but also the skills related to living in a specific group that shares certain practices through which they form their identity in relation to the community (Wenger, 1998: 4). Consequently, learning in Diwan is a process of becoming a member of a certain community of practice (Lave, 1991; Eckert & Wenger, 1994). Before I explore more deeply the functioning of this community of practice, the nature of this developing identity, and what the students learn at school, I must first briefly present the history of Diwan schools.

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The first Diwan immersion school was established in 1977 on the wave of the popularity of the Breton movement, which caused the re-evaluation of Breton culture in 1970s and initiated modern thinking about the necessity of protecting the Breton language (cf. Perazzi, 1998; Chauffin, 2017). Diwan schools were established and were long run by Breton activists. Since their inception, the Diwan schools have faced numerous problems, both institutional (France regarded education in a language other than French as unconstitutional and despite their efforts Diwan schools were not granted the status of public schools) and financial (they often found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy) (Nicolas, 2001: 136). The functioning of the schools relies on the active engagement of the teachers, staff and parents, who help the school organizationally (Diwan is an associative school) and financially – numerous festoù noz were organized in Brittany and the symbolical proceeds (from the tickets and the crêpes made and sold by parents) were allotted to secure the school’s fundamental needs. At the same time, the schools and the people who ran them as well as the parents who sent their children there were strongly linked with and involved in the movement demanding that the Breton language and other minority languages in France be recognized and given equal rights. The Diwan students appeared at all demonstrations staged in Brittany, almost becoming their symbols. In 1994, the only Diwan secondary school was opened in Carhaix/Karaez in central Brittany, on the outskirts of town in an area away from other buildings – which also creates the unique atmosphere of being “outside” the town, the community and the reality of France in the 21st century. Young people from the whole of Brittany come to this boarding school to continue their immersion education and live there. Currently, the school has around 250 students aged 16–18.

I conducted field research during my several stays at the Diwan secondary school. I was introduced by Fanny Chauffin, a Breton activist and a teacher of French who at the time was writing her doctoral dissertation on Diwan schools. In previous years, the school had built a new residential house, which resulted in a considerable improvement of the conditions in which the students lived. The school helps students forge contacts and spend their time together. The residential house, where most of the students of this small school lived, had a large room where the students could meet in their free time. It also had a smaller room where musical bands (there are always several of them in the school) could rehearse. Outside the buildings, there is a large lawn where, if the weather permits, students can sit, play football, play the guitar, sing, talk and enjoy themselves. It was on that lawn that I took most of the interviews with the students. Initially recruited by Fanny Chauffin and the animateur who watched over the students’ safety and maintained order at school, students gradually started to approach me and ask if I could record interviews with them. I had off-the-record conversations with many students over meals in the canteen. I also audited classes and ran workshops. Whenever I came back to the school, the atmosphere and the language practices were somewhat different. Some classes tried to speak Breton, although most of the young people only used French in contacts between one another. However, all of them took part in ←208 | 209→different school and after-school Breton-language activities (musical and theatrical activities, creative writing workshops) consistent with their interests.

When I first arrived at the secondary school for longer as part of the research described in this book,49 the students were preparing for a demonstration in support of the Breton language50 that was to be organized two weeks after I left the school. Both in interviews and in off-the-record conversations, the students often referred to that fact, declaring firmly that they would attend the demonstration and explaining why they believed it was important. Another important event that influenced the atmosphere in the school during my stay there was a trip of several dozen students to Brest for a concert of Danyèl Waro, a Creole singer from Réunion Island. Before the concert, the students had a meeting with the artist that was completely different from the school meetings I had earlier attended. Although the students were initially shy and the teacher had to start the conversation, when the discussion turned to the linguistic situation and the oppression of minorities by the state, the conversation became less formal and even the students who did not say anything nodded their heads and gave out sounds expressing their dissatisfaction with the linguistic situation and their contempt for France’s language policy. For the next two days, groups of students would sing Waro’s songs they had remembered, as well as Breton songs that they thought were close to that context. In the interviews I took, they also referred to France’s oppressive language policy, which they had discussed with the artist. My next meeting with the students was during Ar Redadeg, a race organized every two years by an association that had its roots in the Diwan school. The route of this week-long race is planned across Brittany, and people and associations “buy” the kilometres that they run, holding their “message” (the words of an important Breton figure addressed to the participants in the race and read out at the end of the race). The income from the race is allotted to financing previously selected Breton-language projects and activities. Many Diwan school students and graduates volunteer to help during the event. The school also bought kilometres, and a group of a dozen students and graduates ran together in the middle of the night. All of them were dressed up and carried flags and banners, sang in Breton and enjoyed themselves. The Diwan schools were also engaged in other activities related the race: different schools hosted festivals and events organized by students, teachers and parents.

The school is an exceptional institution that is very often perceived only through the prism of the knowledge that the students acquire and that is confirmed by tests and exams. However, what the students of that school learn goes far beyond the ←209 | 210→knowledge found in textbooks. Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger (1991: 53) called this process situated learning, concluding that:

As an aspect of social practice, learning involves the whole person; it implies not only a relation to specific activities, but a relation to social communities – it implies becoming a full participant, a member, a kind of person. In this view, learning only partly – and often incidentally – implies becoming able to be involved in new activities, to perform new tasks and functions, to master new understandings. Activities, tasks, function, and understandings do not exist in isolation; they are part of broader systems of relations in which they have meaning. These systems of relations arise out of and are reproduced and developed within social communities, which are in part systems of relations among persons. The person is defined by as well as defines these relations. Learning thus implies becoming a different person with respect to the possibilities enabled by these systems of relations. To ignore this aspect of learning is to overlook the fact that learning involves the construction of identities.

This lengthy quote provides an excellent illustration of the processes taking place in the Diwan secondary school, where education means not only acquiring knowledge or linguistic skills but also becoming a conscious participant in Breton life, a process that means engaging in shared practices (related to learning and living together, establishing friendships, having fun, and participating in the activities of the Breton movement) and remains under the influence of the discourse related to endangered languages and the need to protect the Breton culture. The students also learn engagement in activities promoting the Breton language and culture. And since “[t];he construction of practitioners’ identities is a collective enterprise and is only partly a matter of an individual’s sense of self, biography, and substance. The construction of identity is also a way of speaking of the community’s constitution of itself through the activity of its practitioners” (Lave, 1991: 74), I will allow Diwan’s students and graduates to present the school in their own words, as a place that shapes their identity.

In line with the theory of situated learning, the education process is not only about what we do but also what atmosphere we do it in, with whom, in what conditions, and what attitudes we have. Diwan students and graduates speak most about the atmosphere at the secondary school and the close relations that are formed between them. The community formed by the students of that school is particularly strong, because they are together all the time, not only during classes. As one of them says:

B17F(B): We live at the boarding school and we stay here all week, so we live as a group and have to be together all the time, 24 hours a day, here at the school. […] The very fact that we live at the boarding school and are together all the time enriches our social lives, interpersonal relations, generally our life as a community.

One Diwan graduate explains that thanks to the language and common objective of learning in Breton, relations between people become closer. He also points ←210 | 211→out another important aspect of how communities of practice function: due to the small number of people associated with the school (teachers and students) everyone knows one another and the network of connections creates “mutual engagement” among everyone who makes up the community:

J21M(B): This is a different state of mind than at a classic French secondary school. First of all, everything is in Breton, and that changes everything. Moreover, there are not many of us, so our classes are small and we know everyone. It’s a bit like a second family. And it’s a boarding school that we live at. I lived at the boarding house from middle school to the end of secondary school; I got accustomed to it and really liked it.

Another aspect of living together and sharing all everyday practices with the same people, who share a common objective, involves treating one another as members of the same community, within which everyone helps one another:

F18M(B): That’s because we have close relations; we are together all the time, the whole week. So we have to support each other somehow. And we always find the time to have fun, but also to help each other with different problems, with homework or with problems in private life as well. If someone has trouble with their family, or friends, or if things are not working out with their boyfriend or girlfriend. […] And we really are there for each other.

As this shows, the students form a strongly idealized image of the community that exists at the Diwan secondary school. They maintain that there is no rivalry between them, with everyone helping one another and cooperating. Many of my interlocutors also draw attention to the sense of solidarity and democracy that prevails within the school:

E16F(B): I very much like the solidarity between people. The fact that we know everyone at the secondary school, and that brings us very close to each other. We even speak to teachers using tu, rather than vous. I think that shortens the distance between teachers and pupils. That really helps us learn, it motivates us even more than in other secondary schools, where everything is more formal.

Reinforced by mutual practices and active participation in life in school and outside of school, the relations between pupils are viewed as being not just strong, but also permanent:

H20M(B): […] even here, in Rennes, I meet with friends I have known since preschool. We are very good friends. Because we were at the boarding house all week and together experienced things other than just school classes, we feel like more than friends, I treat them like my brothers and sisters. […] I meet everyone at least once a year, some people I see rarely, but we form a kind of chain and know what’s up with one another. This is a community, because we meet and can count on one another.

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A second element of a well-functioning community of practice is “mutual endeavours.” There is no lack of those, not only at the Diwan secondary school, but in the whole immersive Breton schooling system. Because the existence of the Diwan schools was continually under threat, the students participated in various types of activity for the sake of the school: collecting money, holding protests, organizing cultural events, the proceeds from which were allocated to support the further existence of the school. As one secondary school student recalls:

B17F(B): […] from the beginning [of my education in Diwan] we participated in organizing events, lotteries, games, fest-noz, Breton traditions… And in all, I participated in such things when I was really small. I must have been about seven when I was already a waitress serving crepes during the fest-noz, and I was really happy about it. We did a lot of different things and it had an effect on us.

All of these things fit into the context of the broader Breton movement. They bring young children already into contact with and under the influence of the activists who are demanding recognition for Breton and a guaranteed status for it in official life. It seems that the greatest lesson that Diwan school students learn is an understanding that the surrounding reality can be altered through mutual efforts. Fighting for their own school serves as a small-scale substitute for the broader struggle for Breton culture and language, and strengthens the students’ awareness of their own co-responsibility. However, it is not the objective itself that is most important, but the bonds that are forged between members of the community during the shared practices. The school students speak a great deal about those bonds:

B17F(B): […] protests were in fact the most pleasant moments in my life, my school friends and I were there, we sang for the sake of the Breton language. […] And that was magnificent. We were all part of the same movement. And you could sense it. Yes, I love that. That’s generally that’s what Diwan is like, it forms bonds… we get the impression that we are all truly together, for the Breton language and for Diwan. It’s hard to explain…. You can feel that you are not alone, that you are with everyone, together.

Secondary-school students describe the bonds they share in the context of the activities they take part in, especially those undertaken for the sake of the Breton language. They make the students feel closer to one another, as they view themselves in opposition to other people who are unable to understand their commitment. The mutual practices they share are of course not exclusively related to Breton culture or language: like all teenagers, the Diwan school students spend their time flirting, sneaking out of the school for a beer, playing cards. But their involvement in Breton life distinguishes them from their peers, and thereby strengthens the community. Another secondary school student says:

DD16F(B): I think that all this makes us feel closer to each other than to other people. From time to time we discuss the Breton language situation with our friends. […] ←212 | 213→This is something special for the Diwan schools, and we have been here since childhood and we really talk about it a lot. We talk a lot about the fest-noz, about Breton dances and holiday traditions, about what we feel is common to us. All of my friends know how to dance, we listen to Breton music and even discuss the political issues concerning our region, we share ideas…

According to Étienne Wenger (1998: 149), “Developing a practice requires the formation of a community whose members can engage with one another and thus acknowledge each other as participants.” All institutions, in particular schools, shape the collective identity of their members by engaging individuals in their running by forging social communities (Eckert & Wenger, 1994: 4). Collective identity is formed through relationships between group members and between the group and other groups. This sense of being different, developed on different levels as a “shared repertoire,” is very powerful among students at Diwan schools.

Bourdieu (1984) described distinction as the process of differentiation between social classes through constructing and reproducing appropriate structures. Students at Diwan schools use distinction techniques based on the school’s role in activism and the symbolic role of Breton. They emphasise their distinction from students from other schools and anyone who is indifferent about the future of Breton. The role of language in the process of distinguishing students from Diwan schools is fascinating. As mentioned above, secondary-school students rarely speak Breton with each other. However, they discuss the language at length and treat it as a symbol of their identity. Under the specific sociolinguistic conditions characterizing present-day Brittany, identification with Breton culture, symbolized by the knowledge of and references to the minority language, is combined on many levels with constructing a personal identity versus the mainstream French culture (Delon, 2007: 44). It is noteworthy, then, that when students spend time outside school, especially when they want to be noticed for being different or as being Diwan students, they are far more likely to speak Breton.

Lave and Wenger note the role of language in the process of creating communities of practice. They believe that we should distinguish between “talking about” practice and “talking within” practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991:109). Talking about practice means creating stories and histories distinctive to the given group, building foundations and supporting collective memory and engaging with public life. This indicates group membership. In the case of Diwan students, talking about practice mainly means all kinds of activism, including the history of the foundations of Diwan, demonstrations and Breton-language events. It also means discourse on endangered languages, the oppressive political system in France and persecution of minorities, duplicated and repeated in many ways. Talking within practice, in turn, is defined as communication required to continue ongoing activities. It is worth noting, then, that Diwan students have created their own language based on French but featuring numerous Breton words and phrases. Their Breton is equally distinctive in that it repeats certain errors and forms which are not used in literary Breton. This version of Breton is frequently described as “Diwan language.” ←213 | 214→It is used and understood as part of language practice of this specific community. Speaking Breton, and even consciously belonging to a Breton-language community, allows young people to identify with Brittany in spite of being immersed in French culture outside school. For young Bretons this is significant. For the older generation, speaking Breton was equivalent to being Breton. Meanwhile, the younger generation tends to associate cultural identity with “practising” culture, where language and its (real and/or symbolic) use forms part of this practice (Nicholas, 2011: 53).

Researching students at Diwan schools, speaking to them and observing their participation in various kinds of practices shows that they resemble a subculture based on a sense of identity and belonging, formed through activities which confirm and maintain common meaning (Martin, 2004: 33). They have their own language, and they are distinguished by – as they admit themselves – their “alternative” clothing (Kennelly, 2011: 101–104) expressing their distinctive identity. Although Diwan students are proud of the fact that everyone at their schools wears what they want,51 when one looks at the teenagers one notices a striking similarity, which makes them appear as a distinctive, recognisable group. A secondary-school student says:

Y17M(B): We have a similar way of thinking and living. Of course that’s a generalization. For example, when we go somewhere, like yesterday when we went to Quartz [concert hall in Brest], there was someone who said, “Oh, that’s Diwan.” Because almost all of us have long hair, we behave, how can I put it… We move in a group and so on. We are close. And this is often noticed, and I think we are more open…

Openness is another trait Diwan students ascribe to themselves. They link it directly to a belief that by not supporting minority languages and cultures, French culture implies a closed and intolerant attitude. Meanwhile, since Diwan students are educated at schools which by definition oppose French policies, it follows that they must be sensitive to issues of multiculturalism and multilingualism.

F18M(B): […] it isn’t the same identity, the same culture. We are more… I think we are a lot more open to difference. We are all slightly extraverted. We’re all a bit crazy, I’d say. Well, maybe not crazy, but… zany. And I think it’s our mentality. I don’t really know, but it’s important that we are a bit different. It’s not quite the same.

Diwan students have their own style and their own code (they use Breton when they want to stress their distinction, as well as using their own jargon). They perceive themselves as being open to difference, and mentally and quasi-politically ←214 | 215→they place themselves in opposition to the French system. The way they describe French schools is notable by juxtaposing formal teaching and the education they receive at Diwan (the schools have a “chilled out” atmosphere and the relations between students and teachers are informal) and creating an image of the French system as being oppressive. French schools are presented as a counter-standard to the lauded immersive education system:

Y17M(B): [At Diwan] it’s really a way of life which is totally different to French schools. For example, I have a few friends who decided to find out what “normal education” is like. And when I talked to them, they said they were completely wrong. Because the relations between students are different. Here, we are real friends, we see each other regularly. But in normal schools there aren’t those real relations.

Another important aspect of identity shaped by participating in the Diwan community, stressed by students, is how they relate to minorities and oppose the system. According to my interlocutors, Diwan teaches young people to think in political terms. This is situational, by participating in demonstrations, meeting activist, maintaining the atmosphere at school and joining in discourse on threats faced by the minority. This Diwan graduate states that the school taught them to fight:

J21M(B): […] I remember demonstrations supporting the school when I was young, and at Diwan it seems that we always had to fight. And we learned it… Maybe it wasn’t part of the lessons, but to be at Diwan, you had to fight for it. Because in France you can’t be different, it’s frowned upon… You can’t be different. And when you speak Breton, you are different.

This specific skill is directly linked to activities young people participate in since childhood and which result from the need to engage in school life and in getting involved in activities supporting the school:

U25F(B): […] Diwan was in a very difficult situation, there was this constant threat that it would no longer exist because the French government didn’t want to give any money. So it was a fight every day. Every day we wondered whether the school would be closed down. So yes, I’ve always been aware.

Growing up and learning in an atmosphere of activism, contact with people with clear views about the situation of the minority language and culture, and – more than anything – identifying with the institution created as a direct result of the Breton movement, means that students quickly become aware of the situation of Breton culture and language. The young cultural activist and Diwan graduate says:

L25F(B): We were attentive to what was happening around us. There were always problem of recognition of our school. We heard that it is excessive [to learn Breton], that it’s a dead language… And when you hear those things all the time, you start to counteract them. Obviously, we had different opinions but the consciousness was there. This is a secondary school with a strong political consciousness. So we ←215 | 216→started as teenagers to be interested in the political discourse, in politics, not in the national sense but local, regional. We were increasingly strongly interested in the place of Brittany, of the region, of our language, what to do about it… Also, our parent’s attitudes were important, they were also engaged in the existence of the school, and they all know each other. It was all important and had influence on the way we were formed.

Collective identity arises among Diwan students as a result of regular participation in a range of activities and the resulting engagement, since “activity and social relations are closely intertwined” (Eckert, Goldman & Wenger, 1997: 3). These values come together to create their cultural capital, which some of them take into the next community: the Breton movement. At Diwan, “learning is the vehicle for the individual’s engagement with a community and with society at large” (Eckert, Goldman & Wenger, 1997: 6). Students learn active participation in cultural, linguistic and political aspects of community life and become individuals for whom the future of Breton culture and language is important. Young people learn to engage with and take responsibility for the world around them through practice and participation. Research by Fanny Chauffin (2017) has shown that Diwan students are highly active in cultural circles thanks to the school’s engagement in movements based on practicing Breton culture and language, which requires participation in many activities. As Chauffin (2017) reports, over 80% Diwan students participate in extracurricular activities such as music, theatre, dance etc. Moreover, 22% graduates state that their job is directly linked with those activities, with a further 14% engaged with artistic groups. Many graduates are involved with social activism, politics and the Breton movement. Young people also believe that their activity is linked to the education they received at Diwan:

NDR: Do you think it’s related to the type of education?

P18F(B): Well… I guess yes. You know, when I observe my sister who would like to involve herself in some kind of association but says that she has no time for it, etc. And Diwan […] gives us a kind of support, a reason, because from the beginning there is a language that we have to fight for. And it turns us to engagement, I think. Now we struggle for the Breton culture but it pushes us also towards a different types of engagement. It is easier for us because… In Diwan we have something to be committed to, and we see that there are people around us who are also engaged in it and are ready to help us, to show how to engage.

Eckert and Wenger (1994: 2) write: “social relations form around activities, the activities form around relationships, and particular kind of knowledge and expertise become part of individuals’ identities and places in the community.” Many Diwan graduates go on to become Breton activists. Some do so consciously having included participation in Breton culture and language in their way of life. Others believe that they become activists by accident: they do something they enjoy, and since it happens to be linked with Breton, they become part of the movement. From the perspective of their current lives and participation in Breton culture, ←216 | 217→graduates from Diwan secondary schools state that attending those schools had a major impact on their future attitude:

Q20M(B): From the beginning, apart from Breton, there is something more important we learn at Diwan. […] We learn how to become involved in something. […] Diwan really shows that you have to do something and you have to do it with others because in a group you are stronger. And there a certain ideology has been passed on to us, maybe a little bit utopian, but… it’s really a school of civil life, where we were taught to live with other people, to interact easily, to be able to express our thoughts. Yes, it is a school of civil life, besides a place to learn Breton.

In comparison with the situation back in the twentieth century, Diwan schools are now significantly more stable, although their financial problems are far from over. There are growing numbers of schools and teaching materials, and training programmes for bilingual teachers (including state-funded, intensive six-month training programmes). They include individuals who chose bilingual teaching as a good career path in today’s difficult employment market. They are not activists and at times they lack the passion characteristic of teachers during the early days of Diwan schools (cf. McDonald, 1989). At the same time, the promotion of benefits of bilingualism and the high quality of teaching52 at Diwan mean that parents’ motivation to send their children there is gradually shifting from activism to pragmatism (Goalabre, 2011); in those cases, the parents are frequently themselves not involved with Breton movements and may find it difficult to engage with the school. As a young Breton activist says:

N23F(B): I wonder if it isn’t a bit of a fashion: that your kids will learn Breton. People say that learning two languages at a young age makes it easier to learn more later. And sometimes I think people only do it to make it easier for them to learn other languages later. It is not activism in any way.

NDR: Is that bad?

N23F(B): It’s not about whether it’s bad. It’s just in a different spirit. I discussed this with members of Diwan schools who said that there are plenty of parents who don’t speak Breton who send their kids to Diwan schools, they take them in the morning and pick them up in the evening, but everything else that involves more engagement – extra projects, maintaining the school, collecting funds and so on – then there isn’t anyone. Young parents don’t even notice it. It’s still done by older people, while others can’t be bothered, they don’t care. There are those who are constantly organizing something, doing something, making an effort. But ←217 | 218→others just take their kids to school, it’s in a completely different spirit than twenty years ago.

This attitude means that Diwan as a school of civic life and the cradle of future activists may also change.

Online media: real vs. virtual communities

Any discussion of communities of young people must not overlook those created by mass media, in particular the digital world. The role of the media in the process of protecting and revitalizing endangered languages is widely discussed (cf. Riggins, 1992; Cormack, 2000; Buszard-Welcher, 2001; Browne, 2005). Some scholars believe that the benefits of the existence of new media in minority languages does not compensate for the damage done to them by the arrival of mass media in the first place (Fishman, 1991). According to others, “what better strategy could there be for ensuring minority survival than the development by minorities of their own media conveying their own point of view in their own language” (Riggins, 1992: 3). Based on the theory of institutional completeness, indicating a group’s stability due to its involvement with local institutions, Tom Moring states that if minority media do not meet all the needs of the group and its members, they will resort to media of the dominant culture, which in turn weakens ties within the group. Therefore, if the media is to achieve institutional completeness, speakers of minority languages should have wide-reaching access to all kinds of media in their own language (Moring, 2007).

Classic sociolinguistic studies also refer to representatives of minorities using different kinds of media. They are asked about reading books, availability and reading the press, listening to radio and the existence and access to television programmes in the minority language. When asked this, young people (with a few exceptions) answer that they rarely have access to these kinds of media in the minority language. Some explain that mass media in their language are not attractive, although the majority admit that they rarely listen to the radio or watch TV in general, never mind reading books. This is because they get the majority of information, entertainment and social contact online. Following the principle that “the medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964), the internet has changed the way people think and function, especially those born since the dawn of the information age. It affects all spheres of life, from transmitting information to creating relationships on individual and community levels. According to Andrzej Mencwel, McLuhan’s words should be interpreted as “it is impossible to truly understand any message if you ignore the properties of the medium, because the medium is not an occasional costume for the message but the shape that gives it its meaning” (Mencwel, 2006: 55). This means that we cannot study young people’s attitudes and linguistic practices without paying close attention to the role and function of digital media. Although the internet and its use were not the subject of my study, I soon discovered that the lives of my interlocutors are so closely intertwined with their ←218 | 219→activities online that the latter had to be examined even when they were not being discussed. Naturally the role of the internet is also viewed differently by different scholars. Sceptics believe that digital media will drive minority languages (and, in the longer term, also most major languages) to extinction, since the main language of the internet is English and direct, global communication supports a uniform means of communication.53 In turn, enthusiasts claim that the internet provides the best opportunity for minority languages, since its vast capacity and prospects it provides mean that those languages can carve a space for themselves and rebuild their position lost to dominant languages (Cormack, 2000: 3). As is the case with the majority of discourse and research into the internet, the arguments are deeply rooted in the emotional investment of the researchers; they also describe a highly dynamic situation, changing from month to month.

In my reflection on young people’s attitudes to minority languages and ways of joining in with the social and cultural life of their minority and becoming active in supporting it, the internet is not so much a subject of study as an inseparable context of all language, cultural and social practices. In contrast to traditional mass media (print and audio-visual), the internet is not a distinct, separate space which can be isolated and analysed in and of itself. Young people live in the real-life and virtual realities at the same time, rather than in parallel as had been claimed until recently. A brand new hybrid reality has arisen at the intersection. Since young people no longer distinguish between what happens online and offline, the spheres intertwine on all levels of their private, school, family and social lives (Rainie & Wellman, 2012). In my discussion below, based on field studies, interviews and observations conducted in passing of young people’s Facebook use, I analyse several ways in which the internet shapes cultural and language practices of young people involved with their minority. Some of the conclusions can be extrapolated to people who do not identify with or take an interest in minority cultures, while others apply just to this narrow group.

Due to the nature of my research, I am only interested in practices typical of the internet as a participation media. Although its roles as broadcast media (Dębski, 2008) is important due to the high volume of information in minority languages available online and the resulting awareness of these languages and their use in different domains, it only interests me inasmuch as it influences the behaviours and attitudes of my interlocutors. Here, the most important contribution of the internet is how it presents minority languages as modern and adaptable to the ←219 | 220→modern world54 (Buszard-Welcher, 2001). For young people, functioning online is proof of their adaptation to the requirements of the modern world. A young man from Wales says:

U22M(W): Welsh culture is modern because it is a bilingual culture and global trends are towards people who can speak more than one language. Yes… I can use the internet in Welsh, I have Welsh interface on my laptop, Windows in Welsh. Facebook is in Welsh for me.

It also seems that the presence of minority languages online is now so obvious to young people that they are more likely to notice if they are absent. As a participative media, the internet also allows people to create bonds and use minority languages in communication on all levels.

Online media are unique precisely because they are interactive. Users get to decide what they read, watch or listen to, when, where and how, and the medium focuses on dialogue and discussion with other users (Lister et al., 2009). This means that the internet is a medium shaping the social sphere, both virtual and real. It is also a democratic medium: it provides a space for participation and expression of opinions to everyone in (almost) any format and giving all participants equal opportunities. Until recently, some scholars claimed that since the majority of content exists only in the dominant language, so instead of waiting for it to be created in their language, representatives of minorities will adapt their practice to the available technology (Cunliffe & Herring, 2005: 132). However, this is not the case. Minority activists quickly realized the significance of their language being visible online and sought to create suitable software and interfaces of the most important social media in their own language. However, even when it has not been possible to create media in minority languages (the ongoing campaign “Facebook e brezhoneg” is yet to result with a creation of a Breton Facebook interface; a similar campaign “Kaszubski fb? Jo!” has been launched recently in Kashubia), young people simply use their language in a dominant language space. A young Breton activist says:

A25F(B): There is still no Breton Facebook, although we are fighting for it. But it’s enough for someone to post in Breton and you click like, add a comment and join in. We are creating our own Breton reality.

However, for this to be possible, young people must know their minority language. Many young people learn the language at school, although not all have access to this. People who wish to learn have infinitely more opportunities than even a few years ago. With enough determination, it is possible to learn minority languages ←220 | 221→online. This young Kashub is one of the most engaged activists promoting the language (including in mass media):

A20M(K): I didn’t start learning at school, but […] I found myself on Wikibooks where there are seven Kashubian lessons. I looked through them, and during the two weeks of holidays I learned grammar and spelling. This was in middle school.

The young man says that he became interested in Kashubian through school competitions he was sent to by a teacher. There came a point when he realized that since he has discovered his Kashubian identity, he should also learn the language. This young man from Wales gives a similar background to becoming active in promoting Welsh:

NDR: You said you did not manage to learn Welsh at school. So how did you learn it?

S19M(W): Through the internet and then through Welsh speaking people, through Cymdeithas yr Iaith.

Learning grammar is not enough to start communicating in the language. The young man found a group of people he could practice speaking Welsh with. Other new users of minority languages who decide to learn the ethnic language themselves also admit that they started speaking by joining a group of people who already communicate in the language and by trying to use the language to post online. Since the internet is dominated by written text (Rheingold, no date: 176) and interactions must be rapid, knowing the language in its written form is essential. This is described by another young man who says he is taking private lessons in writing in Kashubian from a friend:

K22M(K): We have an arrangement where we meet once a week and he teaches me writing in Kashubian. […] I also try to write myself where I can, hoping I will be corrected, and we also try to chat on Facebook or wherever using Kashubian. I have everything installed on my computer [Kashubian keyboard] and we email each other. We try to make it alive, even in a group of four or five people.

Almost all young people are constantly online, remaining in constant contact with other internet users and posting updates about themselves and their lives. During the time of my research work, one of the most important online spaces occupied by young people, both in terms of interaction and personal updates, is Facebook (Rainie & Wellman, 2012: 21 et seq.). In terms of vitality of minority languages, it is important how young people use them to communicate on social media. Ongoing sociolinguistic research into social media reveals that in online communication, people tend to use the same language they use with the given person in face-to-face communication (Cunliffe, Morris & Prys, 2013). Even people with large numbers of Facebook friends tend to stay in active contact with relatively few. Others simply passively follow (or not) other people’s updates. This means that the more friends communicate using the minority language, the more visible it becomes. This is important for people engaging in communication (using the language, practicing spelling, building bonds) and for more or less casual observers who find ←221 | 222→those updates. Naturally, language practice on Facebook differs between different minorities. Research conducted by Daniel Cunliffe’s team in Wales reveals that language behaviour differs between people who use the minority language (in this case Welsh) at home and those who learn it at school. In Wales, using the language also depends on whether the given local community also uses the language in its daily life. The situation is rather different in Catholic Upper Lusatia, since ethnic boundaries between Sorbs and Germans are powerful and closely tied to language. As a result, online communities are divided along ethnic lines: Sorbs communicate using Sorbian by code-switching to make communication easier. In German-Sorbian groups, German is the almost exclusive language of communication; this is due to the ongoing stigma faced by Sorbian, concerns of Sorbs about being perceived as “lesser” by Germans and their desire to keep their circles separate from the German world (cf. Ratajczak, 2011). My research into Facebook, conducted using the ethnographic method (Postill & Pink, 2012; Baker, 2013) and involving observing updates and communication among my interlocutors and their friends, indicates that the main reason for choosing one language over another is other individuals in the conversation. Bretons learning the language tend to use Breton more frequently when chatting online than in face-to-face communication:

NDR: When it comes to the internet, do you use Breton?

F18M(B): Yes, frequently in emails. But it tends to be in messages among a group of friends, such as invitations to parties and so on. Then it’s often in Breton.

NDR: Because it’s with people from Diwan, is that right?

F18M(B): Yes. With people who speak Breton, that is people from Diwan, but I don’t even know anyone from outside Diwan who speaks Breton well. But frequently, when we are organizing a Breton event, we discuss it online or on Facebook in Breton.

A young Sorbian woman stresses that it would be unnatural to use a different language in written and spoken communication with the same person:

NDR: So on social media, for example Facebook, do you write in Sorbian?

J17F(S): Yes. With friends who I speak Sorbian with I also write in Sorbian. It would be strange otherwise. For me it’s difficult, if I speak Sorbian to someone, to suddenly switch to German. It’s a very strange feeling, I think. Yes. But I also have a Sorbian friend and we always speak German, because that’s how it’s been since the start [of our friendship], and it’s difficult to switch.

The situation faced by Kashubs is interesting in the context of other minorities. In this case, of all my interlocutors who have gone on to become my Facebook friends, only those who are openly and strongly involved in activities protecting the language write in Kashubian. Others, especially secondary-school students, only use Kashubian in extreme circumstances, such as when talking to teachers of the language. This student explains her difficulties with writing in Kashubian and her attitude to the language:

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W18F(K): If I don’t know something, then sometimes I will ask, and if my grandmother doesn’t know, I check online or some other way. When I was writing a report in Kashubian, I was doing a lot of checking online because it’s easily accessible and free to use. I quite often use Kashubian when talking online [to my teacher], but not so much with my friends. They’re not into Kashubian and they are afraid to write in the language.

As well as being a communication tool, the main direct role played by the internet – in particular in creating communities of individuals with shared social and cultural backgrounds and allowing them to participate (actively or passively) in social dialogue – is disseminating information about events and activities organized in a given community, which has a far wider reach than advertising in traditional media or relying on word-of-mouth. All young people who take an interest in a minority language or participate in events involving the minority culture receive Facebook alerts about upcoming concerts, demonstrations, new books and so on. Social media such as Facebook allow users to discuss events, make arrangements to attend them, share opinions with friends and even influence their organization or repertoire through comments and likes. This way of disseminating information about events, new groups, recruitment to amateur theatres or cultural projects and so on is available to almost all internet users; they can also participate in them and motivate one another. For young people, their Facebook lives are just as real as their offline lives. Marking oneself as someone who is taking part in an event or liking it has an impact on a broader social perception of the activity and, by extension, of the minority culture. A young Sorbian woman says she likes pages of Sorbian events she is interested in to keep up to date:

NDR: So why do you like those pages?

E17F(S): Because I can find out a lot about what’s happening in Sorbian. Facebook events I look at, such as “Jolka” events [Sorbian-language amateur cabaret], because I am interested in them and I like going there.

Online media are also making the links between information, communication and action much stronger (Rainie & Wellman, 2012: 14). Internet users find information more quickly and are able to exchange information faster and more easily with others, which in turn makes it easier for them to get involved. A young Breton woman talks about Facebook’s role in events and activism:

K21F(B): […] when you want to communicate something, advertise it so people get involved with something, like an Ai’Ta campaign, or join a new association, or we are looking people for theatre performances, then we talk to each other, but mainly [disseminate information about it] via Facebook. […] Sometimes [applicants] aren’t people we know personally, but they are often friends of friends. Then we get to know them, find out their names, start saying hello, and it goes from there.

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Disseminating information on campaigns and cultural events thus becomes as important as attracting participants and arousing interest in the minority culture among people who were previously indifferent to it.

V20M(K): Fortunately, there are growing volumes of materials [on Facebook]. Mainly by those people, often young, engaged people. Because by choosing this path, they also want to convince other people. And they document becoming more mature to Kashubian communities, Kashubian culture, based on their own example. And those materials are available. There are lesson-plans online on Kashubian history for teachers. […] Young people have growing opportunities to discover Kashubian, especially since they don’t have to travel. It’s enough to type in a few discussion forums and they [can] meet people who are engaged in it.

The young man notes two things: one concerns the availability of materials and getting to know his culture using the internet, while the other concerns interacting with other people interested in similar subjects. He notes that “newbies” can learn simply by following online discussions and becoming inspired to get involved. Another Kashubian activist describes his own, similar path.

NDR: Where did your views come from?

A20M(K): It was online contact. I was looking at different forums and discussions, and I was more convinced by the argument supporting Kashubs being a distinct nation. […] Then I got to know those people.

The young man followed the legitimate peripheral participation principle, one of the most important techniques of situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). The theory concerns how new individuals join existing communities. To start with, their participation may be peripheral (weak with a low degree of risk), but the format is entirely legitimate. As they get to know the community and start identifying with it, the individual is gradually nudged from the peripheries towards the centre to eventually join it fully, take on its values and shape their own identity alongside it.

The online media also allow interaction between people who are not physically in the same place. That means individuals who have emigrated from the region inhabited by the minority can keep in touch. Another important opportunity provided by the internet, in particular for young activists, is being able to contact people from all over the globe who are interested in problems faced by minorities and who may find ways of supporting them. Even simple actions like liking minority campaigns are important, since they bring the matter to public attention. Describing contemporary social movements originating online, Manuel Castells states: “In our society, the public space of the social movements is constructed as hybrid space between the Internet social networks and the occupied urban space: connecting cyberspace and urban space in relentless interaction, constituting, technologically and culturally, instant communities of transformative practice” (Castells, 2015: 11). By using internet forums, many people discover that there are many others who think the same way as them and experience similar anger ←224 | 225→towards the dominant culture. Gaining an understanding that we are not alone in our revolt drives enthusiasm, hope and conviction that change is essential. Acting alongside others reduces fear of consequences. The internet allows activists to establish real and virtual partnerships with other minorities, organizations and individuals. These partnerships mean that minority voices – usually quiet due to their size and political position – are amplified. Young people realize this and want to make the most of it. A young Welsh student says:

L20F(W): I try to do this thing on Facebook now. I try to get in contact with different student communities in Scotland, Ireland. I try to get us all together and just share. We try to do it on the ByG side.55 At the moment it is only Wales, but we try to spread it to other cultures, like the other Celtic cultures in Britain, to show that we are all the same really. There are differences but we are very similar.

In his book Network Society, Manuel Castells ponders whether groups which are created and function online are communities. He notes that the majority of ties formed online can be described as weak. However, he adds, “Virtual communities seem to be stronger than observers usually give them credit for” (Castells, 2010b: 388). He also writes, “SNS users transcend time and space, yet they produce content, set up links and connect practices. There is now a constantly networked world in every dimension of human experience. People in their networks co-evolve in permanent, multiple interactions. But they choose the terms of their co-evolution” (Castells, 2015: 200). By observing how young people behave at various levels of their online lives, it is notable that many of their social media groups overlap with their “real life” social circles. Sometimes they make first contact online, as was the case for this Welsh activist who describes how he first got involved with Cymdeithas yr Iaith:

NDR: How did you find out about it?

S19M(W): Facebook. I made contact with a guy through Facebook, I never met him before, I found him on the internet, and I wrote him that I wanted to speak Welsh and wanted to join them. So we met. You know how it is, as soon as you know one person from this community, you know all the people around it. So I went to the Cymdeithas yr Iaith meeting not knowing anyone, and I went out knowing more people than ever. I talked to them, they knew people, these people knew other people… That is a network of Welsh speaking people. Once you break into that network, you open so many doors there.

In other cases, real-life contacts can shift online. A Kashubian secondary-school student who actively supports minority language campaigns says that she has met people who introduced her to them by chance:

←225 | 226→

T18F(K): I met them by chance, because once on a train I spotted a girl reading a book in Kashubian. And that’s how it started; she was a member of Pomorania, with a placement or job at Radio Gdańsk. And now when there are meetings, they write it on Facebook or somewhere that there’s a meeting and whether I’d like to pop in and take part. Of course it’s a long way to Gdańsk, but sometimes I go, we meet and chat. If not, then I still know what they are doing via Facebook.

The most important role played by the internet is shaping and strengthening bonds within groups. The interactive nature of the internet allows people to meet and create strong, mutual bonds rooted in communication between members of a given community. By observing Facebook interactions between young people, it is clear that they are not anonymous. Every individual presents as themselves, even if they use a pseudonym and an image which isn’t their own photo. Young people decide for themselves who they interact with and who they want to meet online. Research confirms that people interacting with others online generally don’t try to contact strangers but tend to communicate with individuals who already belong to an extended social network (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). It has also been found that Facebook is mainly used to maintain relationships formed offline (Ellison, Steinfield & Lampe, 2007) and that although new relationships may start off as weak, they are generally based on a real-life element common to the online community. It appears that the online media and the way young people function in the hybrid reality have a stronger impact on the transmission of signals concerning minority cultures and ways of joining them than individual activists can achieve. They can be in constant contact, seek more inspiration from groups or events they wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of, and encourage others to join in. However, for them the internet is not the main reason why they became directly and actively involved. It was and remains a tool, a context, and at times a medium for those activities.

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46 One of the members of the Kejadenn club, R21M(B), described the Club’s activity in the following way: “Above all, we take people who would like to come to a meeting and who are starting [to learn] the Breton language. And who can’t speak yet. But there are people from Diwan, too. When I came here, I was received very well. […] So we try to integrate people, help them… make progress in Breton, we show them places where people speak Breton, because you can obviously learn Breton in courses, but you learn it above all in everyday life. […] this year, we’ve brought a Breton-language theatre group to Rennes. Also, we are volunteers for the fest-noz at the Yaouank festival in November. We normally also collaborate with the Diwan secondary school in writing books for children. And we try to respond to offers of projects. That’s because people have their own ideas, and it is good if they can pursue them.” Above all, however, members of Kejadenn form a group of friends who go out together, attend Breton events and demonstrations. The club’s primary goal is to create a community of people who speak and learn Breton.

47 A very old tradition, dating back to 1176, of recognizing the bard that wins the competition for “awdl” poetry (written in a strict metre form called cynghanedd).

48 Boarding schools and halls of residence where young people from a minority culture reside are very good places for the formation of communities of practices. Such places include for example the Pantycelyn hall of residence at Aberystwyth University, where young Welsh-speaking people not only live together but also act together and engage in activities promoting their language, thus forming a strong community and engaging more people in these activities. Here is how one young resident describes the place:

B20M(W):I am an active person, and we have a lot of opportunities to do things together. And I always say to people: if you want to have a quiet life, don’t go to Pantycelyn, because it’s dynamic and very noisy. And most of the people there are Welsh, and it’s a brilliant thing. And the canteen means a lot for the social aspect, cause everybody is meeting for lunch and dinner in the canteen and everyone socialises. Also, a Welsh Students Union is located in Pantycelyn, and we are organising Welsh language social events, from gigs, meetings to performances, and every month we have Welsh language nightclub where only Welsh language songs are played through the night. It’s good fun, and we can socialise. The good thing about Pantycelyn is that when you meet Welsh people from Pantycelyn, you also meet other people from the Welsh language community in the town.

Another community of practice is formed in the hall of residence of the Sorbian secondary school in Budyšin/Bautzen. Just like in the Diwan boarding school, young people not only live here and participate in daily school classes and social gatherings but also have an opportunity to become actively involved in the Sorbian cultural life:

G25M(S):There were only Sorbs in the boarding school, because the students whose parents were German were from the Budyšin area. The atmosphere was very friendly. All the time at school, we were with friends, all this time spent together – it was the most beautiful time. In the morning, we had breakfast together. […] Sometimes, this was like a camp, but one that continued all year. We learned together and celebrated together, which was the coolest thing. I think fondly of that time, because it was something special. We prepared Sorb traditions together, such as mejemjetanje, we sang in bands and performed in a theatre – this was also included.

49 I also visited the Diwan secondary school earlier in the course of my research as part of the UNESCO/Keizo Obuchi Fellowship in 2006/2007, when I was gathering materials for my doctorate (cf. Dołowy-Rybińska, 2011).

50 The demonstration had 10,000 participants. On the same day, similar demonstrations were held across France in places inhabited by language minorities.

51 As Y17M(B) puts it: “Here there isn’t a single brand or outfit worn by everyone. Everyone dresses their own way. But whenever I go past a French secondary school, it’s oh là là, everyone is wearing the same t-shirts, the same trousers. I actually think that’s ugly.”

52 The Diwan school in Carhaix was described by Le Figaro as the best secondary school in France in 2013 (!). Retrieved from: http://etudiant.lefigaro.fr/les-news/palmares/detail/article/le-classement-2013-des-meilleurs-lycees-de-france-1540/ (access: 17.04.2015).

53 Research by W3Techs indicates that 54% of all online content is in English, but the data shows a changing presence of minority languages online (and notes its slight increase). However, this study did not include languages used on internet forums. See: https://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_language/all (access: 18.06.2019).

54 This meaning is made all the more significant by the fact that minority languages and cultures are generally presented in traditional media in a folkloric context as traditional cultures (Tschernokoschewa, 2000).

55 The Byw yn Gymraeg association (Living in Welsh), founded by Welsh-speaking students at the University of Aberystwyth.