The Croatian Education Ministry on Friday agreed that army officers can give lessons about the 1991 Serbo-Croat war in elementary schools, despite critics' claims that the move marks a return to communist-style links between schools and the military.
The ministry said it has approved a project by a group of retired special police officers to offer to teach pupils about the war once a month during their history lessons. The program is optional and each school will decide whether to adopt it, the AP reports.
It is meant as a "potential addition" to history lessons, the ministry said, adding that "it's like bringing a writer or poet to literature classes or an athlete to the gym."
The group that drafted the idea, Association Tigar 90/91, said it only wanted to "help and improve" the lessons about the war.
In 1991, Croatian Serbs took up arms to rebel against Croatia's independence from the former Serb-dominated Yugoslav federation. The rebels seized a third of the country, which Croatia recaptured in offensives four years later.
Many Croats are still very emotional about the war in which at least 10,000 people were killed and war veterans' groups often complain that school lessons do not sufficiently cover it.
But the idea triggered criticism.
"The army has no place in schools, period," declared Zeljka Antunovic, a member of the opposition Social Democrats.
Damir Kajin, of the opposition Istrian Democratic Party, said if such a practice were adopted then lessons about the Holocaust and other major historic events should also be improved.
Sanja Modric, a political analyst, accused the Education Minister Dragan Primorac of reinstalling communist-style practice. When Croatia was part of communist-run Yugoslavia, pupils were taught heavily about the army and even had shooting practice.
"And now, in my old school where new kids sit, the soldiers, as in communism, will hold "history lessons,'"' she wrote in the Jutarnji list daily.
"Did (the minister) ever hear that soldiers wage wars and defend the country, and professors teach children?" she said. "Where did he see it? In North Korea? In Cuba?"