Despite the relative peace in the Balkans over the last decade, nationalism has not taken a holiday since the end of the ethnic wars of the 1990s. The region’s tendency toward xenophobic politics, combined with its history of communist dictatorship, has totally skewed the meaning of words like “moderate” in the former Yugoslavia.So the election of Tomislav Nikolic as president of Serbia is less than encouraging news from the powder keg of Europe: Niklolic is a former leader of the toxic right-wing Serbian Radical Party, having taken over for indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj. As Reuters reports, Niklolic is now doing much to distance himself and his new Serbian Progressive Party from his earlier positions, assuring European leaders of his new found commitment to a pro-European path for Serbia.As these honeyed words left his lips, however, Nikolic made arrangements to fly to Moscow for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. His assurances to European diplomats have yet to repress worries over his remarks from 2007, when he said Serbia would be better off as a province of Slavic Russia than as a cosmopolitan member of the EU.Nikolic’s willingness to play off Brussels and Russia points to the ongoing decline of the EU’s vaunted soft power and to a serious crisis opening up in southeastern Europe. For Serbia, the EU is its main source of investment and trade, but even in a time of deep economic woe, Serbs appear to be considering alternate patrons and relationships. A Serbia increasingly backed by and oriented toward Moscow is not going to be very cooperative on relations with Kosovo.This potential lack of restraint combined with Nikolic’s not-so-distant ultranationalist associations spell out an ominous next chapter not only for Kosovo, but also Bosnia: with Russia’s backing and perhaps also diplomatic support from a Greece newly estranged from Europe and the US, the near-independent Republika Srpska could move toward Milosevic’s grand plan to unite with Serbia proper.Cyprus, Turkey, Serbia and Greece are all growing estranged from the EU in various ways. Russia continues to look for ways to challenge the post 1990 order, and smouldering hatreds and grievances throughout the region provide plenty of fuel for new crises.American foreign policy in the first three years of the Obama administration has been operating on the assumption that Europe’s security problems are essentially solved. Whoever sits in the White House come next January is going to have think harder about the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean than anyone expected just a few months ago.