Munira Subasic lost her husband and teenage son in the darkest chapter of European history since the Second World War – the 1995 genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, when more than 8,300 people were massacred in a few days of horror.

She was also, like thousands more women, assaulted by rampaging Serb forces who hunted down men to murder and women to rape in Bosnia’s woods and destroyed villages after the post-Communist implosion of Yugoslavia.

Munira transformed her pain into a call for women to go out and find their dead menfolk.

It was in that capacity that, a few days ago, she went to meet some other bereaved mothers of Srebrenica – and they greeted her with tears running down their faces. 

A woman who had never located the remains of her sons had returned home to peacefully live in the same place she gave birth and where she wanted to spend her final years. Now she is packing her bags to run.

For in a chilling echo of the blood-drenched past, Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, is pushing for a breakaway republic and even planning to revive the army responsible for that genocide.

Munira Subasic lost her husband and teenage son in the darkest chapter of European history since the Second World War – the 1995 genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, when more than 8,300 people were massacred in a few days of horror

Munira Subasic lost her husband and teenage son in the darkest chapter of European history since the Second World War – the 1995 genocide of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, when more than 8,300 people were massacred in a few days of horror

‘Hitler pushed the whole of Europe into chaos in the middle of the 20th Century. So will Dodik do the same in the 21st Century?’ asked Munira.

These fears are shared widely.

One analyst branded Dodik – a nationalist puppet for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s efforts to destabilise the Continent – ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’.

Even Sefik Dzaferovic, joint president of the country under its power-sharing system, called his fellow president’s actions ‘very, very dangerous’ as he admitted to me that he might need to order the nation’s armed forces to stop a Serb insurgency.

‘If Dodik carries on and nothing is done by the international community, it will most certainly result in conflict breaking out again,’ said Dzaferovic.

For in a chilling echo of the blood-drenched past, Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, is pushing for a breakaway republic and even planning to revive the army responsible for that genocide

For in a chilling echo of the blood-drenched past, Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, is pushing for a breakaway republic and even planning to revive the army responsible for that genocide

So once again, the Balkans are a tinderbox on the brink of explosion – and once again, the impact could be felt far more widely than in just this tormented corner of the European continent.

Winston Churchill famously said that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume – and the Bosnian capital Sarajevo was, of course, the place where a local radical shot the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, sparking the First World War.

Like in past centuries, foreign rivals are fighting for influence. However, Russia has been allowed to slip into an unofficial diplomatic vacuum by the West in order to encourage extremists. 

They threaten the delicate Dayton Peace Agreement that holds this region together since 26 years. Bosnia-Herzegovina, governed along tri-partite ethnic boundaries between Orthodox Serbs (Muslim Bosniaks) and Catholic Croats has governed the area on Tri-Partite Ethnic Lines. 

This agreement came after three and a half years of civil war that led to Nato’s air strikes in 1995. Four years later, more strikes were conducted in Serbian and Kosovo. 

Numerous Nato troops arrived in the region. Now, 600 EU peacekeepers have been deployed.

One analyst branded Dodik (pictured) – a nationalist puppet for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s efforts to destabilise the Continent – ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’

One analyst branded Dodik (pictured) – a nationalist puppet for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s efforts to destabilise the Continent – ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’

Once seen as a moderate hailed in Washington as ‘a breath of fresh air’, Dodik turned into a hardline nationalist after losing an election as prime minister of Republika Srpska, one of two administrative units established in post-war Bosnia. 

After he had returned to power, however, he began speaking out about separation for his Serb-dominated entity. He also harshened his rhetoric. 

He dismissed the genocide as ‘a staged tragedy with an aim to satanise the Serbs’ and recently branded Bosniaks ‘poor-quality’ people.

All three of the country’s governing groups must back any reforms – and this allows Dodik to paralyse the state while hypocritically arguing that his region must leave such a dysfunctional system.

This turmoil began with a July law that criminalized denial of or glorifying genocide. 

The Office of the Higher Representative was established to enforce the peace agreement after many years of discussion.

These sentiments sparked anger among Serb nationalists who continue to glorify the worst European war criminals ever seen since the Nazi era.

Even Sefik Dzaferovic, joint president of the country under its power-sharing system, called his fellow president’s actions ‘very, very dangerous’ as he admitted to me that he might need to order the nation’s armed forces to stop a Serb insurgency

Even Sefik Dzaferovic, joint president of the country under its power-sharing system, called his fellow president’s actions ‘very, very dangerous’ as he admitted to me that he might need to order the nation’s armed forces to stop a Serb insurgency

Dodik announced last month that the group was launching secession efforts for Republika Srpska. This included setting up its own army, tax administration and security forces. It is no surprise that diplomats on both sides are afraid of new bloodshed.

Srebrenica is the most well-documented genocide of all time. An international court declared Republika Srpska the main group responsible for mass atrocities committed by the state’s attempt to make it ethnically pure. 

These included ethnic cleansing of towns and villages, systematic murder, rape camps and digging up mass graves to hide evidence – although other forces also carried out gross war crimes amid fighting that left 100,000 dead.

‘The situation is very disturbing – it feels like it did before the war,’ said Kada Hotic, 76, who lost her husband, son and two brothers among 56 slain relatives. ‘We are all frightened but don’t know what to do.’

Kada worked as a seamstress at Srebrenica. In April 1992 she heard the terrible thunder of war. Serb forces had attacked her small town. It was swollen by refugees living in an unspecified safe zone.

‘When they cleared the city, they raped every woman they caught,’ she said. ‘I spent the next 11 nights sleeping in the woods although it was snowing, then rain fell.’

The town was seized by Serbs who burned and ploughed the homes of its majority Muslim inhabitants. A volunteer force, including Sead’s husband and her son Samir, defeated the soldiers. After Srebrenica was under siege, the Serbs ran out of food and returned to their homeland.

Kada was one of 6,000 others who believed they found refuge in the UN’s Potocari base, which is located in an abandoned car battery plant. 

Overwhelmed Dutch peacekeepers kept more people out of the gate than inside.

A woman searches for a relative's name on the coffins of 136 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre lined up for a joint burial in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 9, 2015

One woman looks for her relative on coffins of victims of 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which were lined up to be buried in Potocari (Bosnia and Herzegovina), July 9, 2015.

An estimated 15,000 men, from teenagers to pensioners, set out through woods and mountains to find safety – but only about a third survived the barrage of Serb ambushes on a 70-mile trek that became known as The Death March.

The Dutch officers, in one of the most shameful episodes of UN history, first agreed to let Serbian troops search the base and film propaganda videos of them doling out bread to the starving people crammed inside – then handed over everyone in the plant. 

Serb troops divided the men and their children from each other, then took them all to bus fleets. 

The bodies of hundreds of men who died were never found again. They were murdered in nearby fields, factories, and schools. Other massacres were smaller.

‘I saw one woman holding on to her 12-year-old boy so they cut his neck on her lap,’ said Kada. ‘A pregnant woman was cut open before my eyes and two babies fell out. Another was delivering a baby – a soldier went over and stood on it.’

This elegant, old lady is afraid that history could repeat itself.

‘It does not matter what happens to me but I am scared for my grandchildren,’ she said. ‘Dodik says he does not want war but he wants his own army and state for himself.

‘This must be stopped. If you wait for the shooting to start, it will be too late,’ she said. ‘We are just collateral damage for Russia in its fight against Europe.’

Some survivors of the 1990s carnage have returned to rebuild their homes and lives in shattered Srebrenica – yet in one more grotesque twist, the elected mayor of this once-prosperous little town is a genocide denier and devoted follower of Dodik.

Mladen Grujicic, a former teacher, has claimed the massacres were not genocide – despite the rulings of two international courts. Mladen Grujicic is also connected to an organization that praises war criminals.

When I met him in his mayoral office, the 39-year-old – whose father died in the war and who ran a group for families of slain soldiers – was friendly and responsive until I asked his views on the genocide. ‘The interview is over,’ he said sharply.

Yet he had talked freely about his admiration for his party leader, saying Dodik ‘is not a nationalist, he is not crude, he is just defending his people’, and insisting that their anger over the genocide law was due to its imposition by a foreigner.

After overrunning Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb forces sorted thousands of Muslim residents by gender, then drove the males away and began killing them

Bosnian Serbs drove thousands of Muslim citizens away from their homes and started killing them after taking over Srebrenica.

Grujicic claimed that talk about the threat of war was due to ‘Bosniak politicians who want to get the international community on their side’, before saying that the country resembled ‘an unhappy marriage and maybe it would be better to divorce’.

These wounds still fester in the society. A study showed that half of the population suffers from post-traumatic stress. This is easily understood when one visits Sarajevo to see the hills nearby, where it was besieged for three years.

This month, almost 50% of young adults surveyed thought of moving abroad.

They feel frustrated by a lack of employment, low wages and corruption, which impede growth, despite receiving more aid per capita that was granted to Germany in the Post-War Marshall Plan.

Dzaferovic and other leaders from Bosnia are asking the West for sanctions against Dodik, as well as to despatch some thousand Nato soldiers to Bosnia-Herzegovina to give Dodik a signal that he will not secede.

Yet Jasmin Mujanovic, a California-based expert on the Balkans, argues that the Dayton peace deal – with power-sharing based on ethnic divisions – has ended up fostering extremists who inflame tensions rather than politicians who might seek consensus.

Mujanovic fears a bubbling struggle similar to Northern Ireland’s Troubles rather than full-scale return to civil war.

Investigators of the International War Crimes Tribunal work at the mass grave where they discovered the remains of more than 100 executed people outside the village of Pilica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 18, 1996

The International War Crimes Tribunal’s investigators visit the mass cemetery where they found the remains of over 100 people executed outside of Pilica (Bosnia and Herzegovina), September 18, 1996

He said: ‘Dodik is an agent of chaos who’s trying to see how far he can take this – and the fear is that he could go very far.’

Some believe that the Bosnian Serb leader may be playing games in order to win support for next year’s elections, but won’t do anything to seperate.

Yet he is also a pawn for Putin as the Kremlin seeks to restrain Nato and divide the EU – which must contend with its own nationalist leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who visited Dodik three weeks ago.

Rumours abound that Dodik may have been visiting Moscow and Belgrade (the Serbian capital), to obtain weapons supplies. ‘If anybody tries to stop us, we have friends who will defend us,’ he warned last month.

People pray near coffins of their relatives, who are newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which are lined up for a joint burial in Potocari near Srebrenica

People pray in front of coffins belonging to their loved ones, newly identified victims from the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre. These are lined up for a communal burial at Potocari, near Srebrenica.

Before meeting the Srebrenica Mayor, I was struck first by the powerful photo in the Genocide Memorial Centre that had been set up at the former UN Base. 

This image showed a terrified woman holding her child while Ratko Mladic the Serbian general, was later found guilty of war crimes and genocide, watched by a UN soldier.

Then the first man I met after leaving Grujicic’s office turned out to be the husband of that same woman and father of the boy in her arms – who both survived the war.

Mevludin Haifizovic lost his father during the conflict. ‘How can anyone say my father did not exist or that house over the street was not destroyed?’ he said as we discussed genocide deniers.

A father of three, an unemployed miner, was with his friend who had just lost 70 loved ones in the conflict. ‘It is so easy to raise tensions but no ordinary person wants war. We all suffered so much with no food, no fuel, no electricity for four years.’

In this July 13, 1995 file photo, Dutch U.N. peacekeepers sit on top of an armored personnel carrier while Muslim refugees from Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, gather in the village of Potocari, just north of Srebrenica

File photo from July 13, 1995. Dutch U.N. peacekeepers are seated on the top of an armored personnel car while Muslim refugees fleeing Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia gather in Potocari.

Then, I began walking down the street to talk with Radojica Milinikovic (a municipal plumber) who laughed off any talk of renewed conflicts. ‘We have no problems,’ he said.

This affable man told me of his own wartime torment, serving in the Serb forces and seeing his brother’s body – naked after being stripped of all his clothes – trapped on the front line for two months before it could be retrieved.

He claimed that both parties had committed terrible acts. ‘They cut the heads off Serbs and played football with them,’ he claimed.

He then revealed something amazing: he served in Potocari before all the children, men and women were killed by that evil orgy. But he maintained that no terrible things had occurred at the infamous spot.

‘They said men were killed there and women were raped but it is all lies. I saw neighbours whom I had not seen for a while and after we talked, we waved them goodbye on the buses.’

He didn’t deny the fact that others were being murdered. I will always remember the disturbing line about him waving good-bye to his neighbours on the road to their death.

For it shows the interwoven nature of Bosnia’s communities, symbolises the lethal legacy of the past that remains so resonant in the blighted Balkans – and sums up the dangers of Dodik, backed by his manipulative ally in Moscow, hurtling along a path that risks igniting another inflammatory conflict.