TOWARDS the end of 2021 I found myself travelling down through southern Bosnia and Herzegovina filming for a television documentary to be broadcast in Scotland later this year.

My journey took me through cities, towns and villages where almost 30 years ago I covered the conflicts then engulfing the Balkans.

At times it was a ­disquieting ­experience, rekindling some ­memories that I’d prefer to forget and hearing the growing concerns of Bosnians in particular, but also those of Croats and Serbs that the region could again descend into war.

One afternoon, not far from the city of Mostar, we came across a ­roadside monument that at first glance appeared to commemorate those locals who had died during the war that raged between 1992 and 1995.

On closer inspection however the inscription on its side told a very ­different story. A memorial it was, but not to the victims of war, but rather those “victims of the UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague”.

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It was a jaw-dropping moment, a sinister, totally unrepentant and deeply troubling iteration that the barbarous acts these people had ­committed were not deemed wrong by those who erected this ­“monument”, in their “honour”.

On the contrary it glorified what most of us now know to be monsters, men who ordered or themselves carried out atrocities that knew no bounds. Here before our eyes was the worst kind of rewriting of history.

The kind recognised for the ­aberration that it is in a recent ­message sent by Bosnian foreign ­minister Bisera Turkovic to her ­Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid ­warning of how history repeats itself when the whitewashing of crimes against humanity goes unchallenged.

“The deniers of the Holocaust, like the deniers of the Srebrenica genocide, employ the same egregious methods – minimising events to the outright denial and finally to the ­glorification of the convicted war criminals,” wrote Turkovic.

Turcovic’s pointed letter, quoted in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, comes precisely at the moment when political tensions between the three major ethnic groups inhabiting the country – Serbs, Croats and Bosnians – are rapidly escalating.

So dangerous in fact is the ­situation that the EU’s High ­Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, ­Christian Schmidt, recently said that the ­country is now facing “the ­greatest existential crisis of the post-war ­period”.

Over the past months two ­Bosnian parties representing, ­respectively, ­Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian ­Croats, have formed an unholy ­alliance in the parliament of ­Bosnia and ­Herzegovina in an effort to ­decriminalise the ­denial of genocides and crimes against humanity in the country.

On the back of this, too, we have just witnessed this past week Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the country’s tripartite presidency, ratchet tensions further by holding public celebrations which Bosnia’s Constitutional Court has already twice ruled illegal.

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The banned celebration last weekend, dubbed the “Day of ­Republika ­Srpska” (RS), marks the ­establishment of the Bosnian Serb state of RS in 1992, considered a key moment in sparking the ensuing ­conflict that became the bloodiest in Europe since the Second World War.

At Dodik’s behest thousands poured on to the streets of towns across RS, singing Serb nationalist songs often glorifying the Bosnian Serb wartime military commander, Ratko Mladic, who was convicted of war crimes at the Hague tribunal – including the genocidal slaughter of 8000 Bosniaks in the eastern town of Srebrenica.

Before an assembled audience of Bosnian Serb leaders, ­including Vinko Pandurevic convicted of ­aiding and abetting crimes against ­humanity, a chosen audience ­gathered for an event eerily reminiscent of those ­sinister days just before the outbreak of hostilities in the 1990s.

Perhaps most worrying of all was that in attendance too were Russian and Chinese diplomats and at least two French MEP’s from the far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally) party.

In street marches on the day ­Bosnian-Serb paramilitary forces fell in alongside the Russian motorcycle group, the Night Wolves known for its close ties to the Kremlin and promoting President Vladimir Putin’s brand of Russian nationalism.

Not surprisingly the arrival of the Night Wolves, as part of what they described as a nine-day “Russian ­Balkans” tour has stoked fears among Bosnian and international authorities that their real purpose is to stoke anti-Western sentiment and push for a separatist movement among Serbs in the country, something the group was similarly accused of doing during the separatist revolt in Ukraine.

Terrifying as all these ­developments are, perhaps the most concerning aspect of all is the way in which Europe has badly let its guard down over Bosnia.

Following the war in 1995, the ­international community did what it could to keep Bosnia on a peaceful footing, pressuring leaders across the wider Balkans region to abandon hate speech and search for political compromise in return for financial and other support.

But as time has passed it has lost ­interest and kept Bosnia out of ­Europe’s embrace, resulting in ­growing disillusionment among many Bosnians with the EU and enabling the likes of Dodik and his cadres to lean ever more forcefully in the ­direction of Russia and China.

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In short, Europe’s lack of ­vigilance has been a godsend for Dodik, the man Washington once ­embarrassingly ­described as an anti-nationalist “breath of fresh air” in the region.

Today instead, Dodik represents a toxic wind that has wafted across Europe and enabled him to position himself as a key destabiliser right under the noses of the international community.

His long-term cultivation of close ties with everyone from the from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) to France’s far right should have been spotted for what it is a long time ago. Instead, the EU and wider international community has buried its head in the sand.

DODIK might continue to claim that he wants the “peaceful dissolution” of a Bosnian state birthed by the Dayton Agreement in 1995, but few doubt he would happily bring that about by other means if necessary.

Some will argue too that the Serb leader has made noises before over the past about Serb ­secession and what we are now seeing is just ­another move in his battle for ­political ­leverage. He has nothing to gain by another war advocates of this interpretation argue.

But this is the Balkans, and its ­tinderbox history shows that nothing should be taken for granted. Dodik might insist Serbs are the victims here, but narratives of victimhood have a habit of creating more ­victims.

Bosnia is on the brink again and there are other bigger, ambitious, even more malign forces involved this time. Europe needs to wake up to that fact and fast.