This trope naturally derives from certain Real Life regimes' attempts to prove to the world that they're totally legit democracies. Please, however, add examples judiciously, and limit them to documentable, objective examples.
- Algeria: the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria. It's not particularly democratic and in fact has an awful human rights record, but at least it's not run by French colonialists or Islamic fundamentalists, both of whom the current government ejected from the country.
- Bangladesh: the People's Republic of Bangladesh, which is a somewhat downplayed example, because it intends to be a legitimate democracy. However, it has a record of corruption and lack of respect for human rights. Along with taking a few decades to get democracy to stick, having gone through a long string of military coups after achieving independence from Pakistan.
- Burma: the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, supposedly uniting the various ethnic groups in the country, but home of one of the longest-running civil wars in the world and severe oppression of its Muslim minority. Its former military junta was called the "State Peace and Development Council", making it sound more like a think tank than a dictatorship.
- Canada is probably the best example of this trope inverted. While its current official name is simply Canada, its former official name (now rarely used, but still considered appropriate nowadays) is the sinister-sounding Dominion of Canada, yet the country is a relatively prosperous, stable democracy. The term dominion is a legacy of The British Empire, where it was used for colonies with a greater level of autonomy.
- China: the People's Republic of China. It's your usual garden-variety authoritarian state (though somewhat less so in the decades following the de facto abolition of communism◊ by the Dengists in the 1980s), with its share of atrocities and bent on getting every one of its billion-plus people to agree with the government's policy. It's special because in many ways, it's the Trope Codifier; regardless of whether it's a true "people's republic", it's nearly always called the "People's Republic of China" to disambiguate it from the "Republic of China", which controlled China before 1949, still exists and controls Taiwan, and still claims control of all China, presenting itself as the non-Communist substitute (although under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek, it wasn't much better). The PRC wasn't always thought of as China's legitimate government, so especially before 1972 (when Richard Nixon famously went to China and established PRC-USA trade ties), no Western government really wanted to legitimize the PRC by calling it "China". And there're also the PRC's "special administrative regions" Hong Kong and Macau, which are technically part of the PRC but have their own, more democratic governments, and which were respectively British and Portuguese colonies until 1997 and 1999.
Sadly, after the 2014 Umbrella movement in HK, China's jumped the gun and is seeking to consolidate its hold on HK early at least 28 years before 2047, which is when HK and Macau are meant to be reintegrated within China. In modern parlance, "China" usually means the mainland, but "People's Republic of China" had to be used as a necessary clarification. The rogue state status of the PRC prior to the late 1970s/early '80s and the gross oppression and poverty that existed during Mao Zedong's rule were big reasons why "People's Republic" entered the general lexicon as "Communist hellhole" although China is a historically authoritarian state and was poor long before the Communists came into power, and given its historically ridiculously huge population, perhaps it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that China has little regard for the concept of "inalienable human rights".
- Ethiopia: the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. This was even more blatant (and more repressive) during the communist period (see below), but even today Ethiopia is a de facto authoritarian one party state with a similar Democracy Index to the aforementioned PRC.
- Laos: the Lao People's Democratic Republic. It has been communist since 1975, when the Pathet Lao, a communist movement closely allied with the Viet Minh, and later North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, overthrew a 621-year-old monarchy and forced the abdication of King Savang Vatthana.
- North Korea: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It's one of the worst examples on the list, as it constantly shills its freedom and generosity, but is one of the most notorious human rights violators in human history. The name is four lies for the price of one: it's not a democracy, it's not run by or for the people, it's really not even a republic (its head of state has been dead since 1994note and its ruling family is a de facto absolute monarchy, with the ruling right of the Kim dynasty enshrined in their constitution), and it only occupies the northern portion of the Korean peninsula.note
- Nepal: the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Sightly downplayed. It is a multi-party federal republic since the abolition of monarchy in 2008, but the communist party has been in power since then and they were behind a civil war that ended the alredy mentioned monarchy.
- Serbia from 1992 to 2003, together with Montenegro, was known as the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". It was hardly federalist or republican, being more a unitary dictatorship, and didn't even control all of Yugoslavia.
- Sri Lanka: the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka presents a subversion, as you'd expect a country with that name to be a communist dictatorship, but it's an actual democratically elected government with a social market economy (conduct during the Sri Lankan Civil War notwithstanding).
- United Kingdom: Although not an authoritarian dictatorship, the UK's name, or at least, the "United" part of it is oftentimes merely nominal. Typically Britons will identify more strongly with their ethnicity (e.g. Scottish, English, Welsh, or Northern Irish) over their nationality (i.e. British) and in sports, the country has multiple soccer teams participating in FIFA, instead of one unified one. Even the "Kingdom" part can be considered nominal as the country's sovereign typically has little significant involvement in the day-to-day governance of the country. Some suggest that the very popular Queen is the main thing keeping the UK "United" for the time being.
- After the Irish Free state ceceeded from the union in 1922, the UK kept its full name of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" until 1927 despite recognising Ireland's split from the off. The six counties of Northern Ireland were also part of the breakaway but rejoined after two days, letting that title have some credence.
- Ukraine has a couple of splinter groups, the "Donetsk People's Republic" and the "Lugansk People's Republic", formed by pro-Russian separatists in the country's east. Although they're not communist (like 21st century Russia, they have a somewhat bizarre mix of right-wing politics and nostalgia for the left-wing Soviet Union), the Western media, as well as independent bloggers who were forced to leave the occupied territories lest they be arrested and tortured, say they're certainly not democratic (while the Russian media say otherwise).
- Venezuela: the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. After he took power in 1999, socialist strongman Hugo Chávez chose the name as a nod to Simón Bolívar, hero of Venezuela's war for independence in the 1810s and 1820s. The idea was to model the country after Bolívar's ideal which wasn't that democratic either, as he felt South America wasn't ready for democracy at the timenote but the "Bolivarian Republic" was characterized by repression and dictatorship (plus complete dysfunction under Chávez's successor, Nicolás Maduro), its insistence that it endorses democracy to the contrary.
- After a coup d'état in 1972, Commander Matthieu Kérékou led an army, overthrowing the Republic of Dahomey's goverment, dissolved the National Assembly and the Presidential Council. In 1974, President Kérékou announced the formal accession of his government to Marxism-Leninism, aligned Dahomey with the Soviet Union, and renamed the country as the People's Republic of Benin in 1975. In 1989, a new constitution was adopted, Marxism-Leninism was abolished, and the communist aligned government was replaced and the "People's" part was dropped from the Republic of Benin to reflect the country's changes for the better.
- Cambodia was known as the State of Democratic Kampuchea when it was run by the Khmer Rouge, and the Cambodian monarchy was abolished with King Norodom Sihanouk forming a government in exile from 1970 until the monarchy re-emerged, only for the King's re-establishment to be rejected and seen as a mere figurehead chosen by election, who can reign, but not govern. The real power was the Khmer Rouge, a particularly brutal regime whose ideology was a bizarre rural-primitivist perversion of communism rather than the usual trope of industrialization, the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot tried to make an agrarian utopia. It led to more than 20% of the country's population dying from famine, disease, and mass executions. It was ultimately dissolved by the mid-1990s (after the Socialist Republic of Vietnam invaded Cambodia to remove the Khmer Rouge from power, in hopes of establishing a more sane version of communism) and finally surrendered in 1999. Today, the king of Cambodia is still recognized as a ceremonial figurehead with few actual powers who represents peace, stability, and prosperity, even though the country is now known as the Kingdom of Cambodia.
- For the first few decades that it was a Belgian colony, what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was known as the Congo Free State. "Free State"note had nothing to do with "freedom"; it designated the entire region as the personal property of Leopold II, King of the Belgians as opposed to property of Belgium itself. The indigenous population were ... also treated as his property. The territory was known as Zaire (officially the Republic of Zaire) from 1971 to 1997 and led by President Mobutu Sese Seko from 1965 to 1997 (in 1971, he renamed the country Zaire) with the Popular Movement of the Revolution Party being the only political party in Zaire). In 1997, rebel forces led by Laurent-Desiré Kabila ousted Mobutu from the country and the name was changed from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (alternately Congo-Kinshasa, the second name being that of its capital city) and is still an authoritarian state, but the neighboring Republic of the Congo (alternately Congo-Brazzaville after its capital) isn't much better, and was itself used to be a Soviet-aligned People's Republic. It's last leader as a People's Republic is currently the same president it has today.
- Croatia during World War II was the Independent State of Croatia, which was actually a Puppet State of Nazi Germany. It was otherwise recognized as part of Yugoslavia the whole time, and remained so until its real independence in 1991. It was a brutal fascist regime run by the Ustase party who sought to wipe out ethnic Serbs, Jews, and Roma. Even the Nazis were disgusted by some of their atrocities.
- East Germany was officially named the German Democratic Republic and went as far as referring to itself as the "Workers and Farmers State". The police was named "People's Police", the military was known as the "National People's Army". "Agricultural Production Collectives" and "People's Own Plants" took care of farming and industrial production respectively; they were all "the people's property". Newspeak ran so rampant that it's hard not to Trade Snark it.
For actually, the GDR was so thoroughly totalitarian and Stalinist that the Soviet Red Army didn't have to interfere with the East German people even once. A secret service called the Department of State Security a.k.a. The Stasi had its eyes everywhere because just about everyone could be (and often actually was) a spy. There was hardly any GDR citizen about whom the Stasi didn't have a file. There were elections and multiple political parties, but there was only one big party, the Socialist Unified Party of Germany, and a few smaller ones that were affiliated with it, and there wasn't any opposition. Since it didn't matter whom to vote for, the Socialist Unified Party of Germany usually got almost all votes in every election. The GDR went through fewer leaders in its 41 years of existence than the Soviet Union. There were also demonstrations, but folks were told from the higher-ups what to demonstrate for, and that was always something that had already been planned to be done anyway. The border between the Germanies, including the Berlin Wall, was the best-secured and deadliest border on the planet. It officially served the purpose of keeping "fascism" out, but it was actually also built to hold the GDR citizens as prisoners in their own country. All agriculture, industry and other businesses without a single exception were owned and dictated by the government with no regards whatsoever for supply and demand, so while the GDR citizens weren't poor, there was often nothing that they could get for their money. Almost.
It wasn't before 1988 that larger numbers of GDR citizens became disobedient. At first, they only demonstrated for freedom of travel (workers weren't allowed to leave the GDR at all, not even for other socialist countries). A Catchphrase that came up during these demonstrations was, "We are the people!" to tell the government what the oft-abused term "people" actually means. The Soviet Union now being ruled by Mikhail Gorbachev might have played a role in this because the GDR government wasn't backed by a die-hard post-Stalinist Soviet Union anymore. The GDR government took into consideration sending special police forces or even the National People's Army to crack down on the demonstrations, but Western mass media had their eyes on them, and the GDR depended on hard Western money to survive. The leaders eventually granted their people that one liberty they craved, but this set a chain of events into motion that brought down the Wall (starting with Checkpoint Charlie being Zerg Rush'd by thousands of East Berliners until the border personnel saw no point in keeping it closed anymore) and the inner-German border a good year later and an end to the GDR itself less than another year later.
- Ethiopia was officially known as the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia for a few years in the late eighties and early nineties, with its communist dictatorship succeeding the Marxist junta that had ruled it for the previous thirteen years.
- The Holy Roman Empire was, as Voltaire noted, not holy, not Roman, and not an empire. It claimed to be the successor to the actual Western Roman Empire, which had collapsed some 300 years previously. The title "Holy Roman Emperor" was in fact given by The Pope to Charlemagne, who had conquered a big chunk of western Europe. Charlemagne proceeded to give Rome to the Pope to rule directly, and by the time of The Renaissance, the "Empire" was reduced to a loose confederation of autonomous cities and principalities in Germany, most of which had never even been a part of the original Roman Empire. Claiming to be the true successors of the Roman Empire was essentially the ancient European equivalent of this; the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Romania (it's in the name), and many others all claimed the title at some point even when Rome itself was far out of their reach, with only the Byzantine Empire having an actual reason (as in being the actual eastern half of the Roman Empire).
- The Roman Empire itself is perhaps the Ur-Example, since it continued to call itself "the Senate and People of Rome" (Senatus Populusque Romanus, SPQR) despite the First Citizen having full control over all decrees issued by the Senators and People's Tribunes, either through veto or amassing those offices for themselves, and establishing an unofficial monarchy through hereditary succession. They maintained this fiction for several centuries until they finally dropped all pretense and declared the Republic officially dead.
- The Italian Social Republic, also known as the "Republic of Salò", was The Remnant of Benito Mussolini's regime in Italy. Mussolini was overthrown and later jailed by his post-fascist successors, but Otto Skorzeny and his SS troops freed him and gave him his little rump state. Like the aforementioned Independent Croatia, it was always a Puppet State of Nazi Germany with no real authority, and the Nazis even nicked two bits for themselves.
- Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was known as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. "Jamahiriya" is a word made up by Gaddafi himself; the normal Arabic word for "republic" is jumhūriya, meaning "public thing" (analogous to the Latin "res publica" which also means "public thing" and is the ancestor of the word "republic"). Gaddafi tried to pluralize the "public" bit to mean something along the lines of "state of the masses." The country became just "Libya" and then "State of Libya" after Gaddafi was overthrown.
- The First Mexican Republic only has the "first" and "Mexican" going for it. It wasn't a republic, but instead ruled as effectively a military dictatorship by Antonio López de Santa Anna, who even suspended the constitution to keep himself in power. He used this power as a Despair Gambit after losing the Texan Revolution to try to reconquer Texas.
- The Soviet Union was officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR. This suggests that it was a federation of "soviets", locally and democratically elected councils, run by the Supreme Soviet, a body elected by separate soviets to discharge their legislative business. In practice, the USSR was ruled entirely by the Communist Party, with the Supreme Soviet being merely a rubber stamp for legislation. Quite the opposite of form of government implied by the word "soviet", it was a heavily centralized state where the government had near-total control over the economy and many other aspects of life. To the point that it became widely assumed that "soviet" actually referred to such a centralized dictatorship, the actual meaning of the word having been displaced in common usage. The Soviet Union's satellite states also had names like this; Poland, Hungary, Mongolia, North Korea, Bulgaria, and Romania were all "People's Republics", and all those that democratized dropped the "People's" when they did so (except Romania, which had a stint as the "Socialist Republic of Romania" under Nicolae Ceauşescu until he was deposed in 1989).
- Originally, the Soviet Union actually was that: a federalized union of fairly autonomous constituent states, and Lenin used the Union's multinationalism as an effective propaganda tool. It took until Joseph Stalin (a Georgian, ironically) that it became true that Russia called all the shots and Russian became the dominant language.
- Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is another de facto hereditary monarchy, with Hafez al-Assad passing the throne to his son Bashar al-Assad almost upon his death in 2000 (a caretaker president served for about a month in between them). While it appeared that the country was liberalizing in the 2000s, with limited market reforms and political freedoms, The Arab Spring set that back hard when protests were met by brutal crackdowns that eventually resulted in a full-on Civil War. Then ISIS came along and things got even worse.
- Vietnam: During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam was officially known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It was, of course, a brutal and repressive dictatorship that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, banned and jailed all political opposition, and enacted state control of the economy to a far greater degree than even other Asian socialist states. The modern Vietnam is a lesser version. It's now known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and while it's still among the more authoritarian countries in the world, it's nowhere near as brutal as it used to be (it's nowhere near as poor, either). Amusingly, it fits this trope in an another, positive way: ever since the 1986 economic reforms (much like what China was doing at the time, albeit to a lesser extent), Vietnam is no longer a socialist economy, despite many a Suspiciously Specific Denial asserting the contrary.
- Yemen used to be two separate countries, North Yemen and South Yemen. South Yemen, formerly a British colony, became the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and, from 1967 to 1990, was a unique Communist dictatorship with Islamic flavoring.
- Afghanistan's Saur Revolution probably counts. Despite claiming to be a popular communist revolution, the movement had no popular involvement (communist news papers were clearly surprised when it happened) and was actually a pretty standard coup. Afterward the country became the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, but the nation's communist party was not only undemocratic but unusually insular and closeted, alienating them from even potential supporters. Furthermore, the first two communist leaders were so brutal that the Soviets were disgusted, invading in 1979 to install a more moderate but ultimately ineffectual replacement.
Political Movements and Parties
- In Argentina, the military coup that deposed President Juan Perón was named the Revolución Libertadora, or "liberating revolution". Far from being liberating, it was even more restrictive than your usual military coup, banning even the mention of Perón's name.
- In Brazil, the Social Liberal Party is actually a hardline conservative party whose political ideology includes social conservatism, militarism, anti-communism, right-wing populism, nationalism, and monarchism. It didn't start out this way, though; it was founded as a genuinely liberal party, but much has changed since current times with them dropping their progressive policies except for the economic ones.
- Burma's former military junta was called the "State Peace and Development Council", making it look more like a think tank than a dictatorship.
- In Colombia, the Centro Democrático party is neither centrist nor democratic. It is, in fact, very far right and led by a populist authoritarian who is constantly being investigated for his ties to paramilitary groups.
- In Ecuador, president Rafael Correa has a policy of "democratic control" of the press, which is not democratic at all; it's just a way for him to exercise control of the press by claiming that the state has to ensure freedom of the press.
- Eritrea is run by the People's Front for Democracy and Justice. Its rule is hardly just and democratic; Eritrea is behind only North Korea in world press freedom rankings.
- In Norway, the "Progress Party" is not a leftist progressive party, but rather a hard-right conservative party.
- The "Peoplesnote Temple" is the name of the movement founded by the Reverend Jim Jones, who preached equality among people and famously tried to start an agrarian socialist utopia with his followers in Guyana. He named the colony Jonestown, ran it with an iron fist, slowly went insane, and eventually forced the colony's members to commit ritual suicide.
- The full name of the Nazi Party was the National Socialist German Workers' Party. While it initially had anti-capitalist themes, Hitler quickly eschewed them to gain the support of business elites and conservative aristocrats, and once he gained power, he had all the left-leaning members of the party purged in the Night of the Long Knives (along with a lot of other politicians he believed had outlived their usefulness). The Nazis often put the word "Volks" (Peoples') on many of their institutions, from the Volkswagen (People's Car) to the Volksgerichtshof (Peoples' Court), the Nazi Kangaroo Court.
- "Positive Christianity" sounds like an uplifting philosophy or possibly an attempt at making Christianity scientifically accurate, until you learn that Nazi Germany invented it as a way to spin Christianity to support its ideology, while simultaneously removing most of the Jewish elements from the religion.
- In Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party is an ultra-nationalist far-right and economically interventionist party, not liberal or democratic. It was engineered by the Communist Party and the KGB during the collapse of the Soviet Union as a sort of stalking horse to split the liberal vote. It has since evolved into a Cult of Personality around its showmanlike leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who uses a lot of opposition rhetoric but whose policy sometimes tends to align with that of Vladimir Putin. In other areas, however, he differs drastically, endorsing heavier government intervention in the economy (nationalizing large businesses and bringing back elements of central planning), annexation of the former territories of the Russian Empire to restore "natural borders", cutting of relations with Israel (the party is extremely antisemitic), banning Muslims from entering Russia, abolishing the federal ethnic republics such as Tatarstan (which he alleges get a preferential tax arrangement "at the expense of the Russian people"), and restoring Russia's Imperial flag and anthem. In the most recent legislative elections the LDP received 14% of the vote.
- In The United States, almost no political movement's name seems to mean what it says:
- Both of the two largest political parties are guilty of this to a small extent. The Democratic Party selects its presidential candidate with a process including "superdelegates", who can, in theory, pick the nominee on the party's behalf regardless of how the people vote. The Republican Party likes to style itself as the "Grand Old Party", making itself look as if it has been around since the foundation of the country, when it's younger than even the Democrats.note
- The "American Freedom Party" is an obscure party whose main plank is a white supremacist ideology. In other words, only white people would be "free" if it governed.
- The "American Independent Party"note was not derived from any real "independent" stance, but was mainly a vehicle for segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace to run for president in 1968.
- The "Constitution Party" is a far-right Christian theocratic party. Many of its policies would contravene the U.S. Constitution, especially its prohibition on preferential treatment of any religion.
- American left-wingers are known as "liberals", which makes them look this way to "traditional" liberals, who derive the name from the British Liberal Party and their liberal economic policy rather than social policy. That's why "Liberal" parties in other countries tend to be center-right parties.note
- While we probably shouldn't touch on either of the major American political parties' current views, from shortly after its conception all the way in to the 1970s to an extent, the Democratic Party was strongly in favor of racism and limiting the voting power of nonwhite people. At its most extreme, the Democratic Party relied almost exclusively on intimidation and violence to stay in power, all the while claiming to be fighting for the good of the "common man." During his administration in The '30s and The '40s, Franklin D. Roosevelt began a change to move the party away from this sort of thinking, which ended with the last "Dixiecrats" leaving the party in The '70s and The '80s. It is very much Old Shame for the modern party. These days the Democratic Party is about 60% white.Benjamin "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman: The Democratic Party means that the white man is supreme. That is why we ... are all Democrats.
- In Germany, the National Democratic Party is a far-right party with many members being neo-Nazis; certainly not democratic by any means.
Allusions to the phenomenonIn English-speaking countries, the term "People's Republic" is sometimes used tongue-in-cheek to describe left-leaning places that aren't actually communist, but might as well be. Conservatives tend to use the label as a pejorative, while progressives from such areas might use it as an Appropriated Appellation.
- In Britain, the label tends to arise from Thatcher-era tensions with labour unions, as the more socialist areas Oop North got names like this as a pejorative (such as the "People's Republic of South Yorkshire"). Fife and Motherwell in Scotland get the label for electing real Communist MPs.
- Canada will occasionally refer to itself as the "People's Republic of Canuckistan", as a way of poking fun at Americans (right-wing American commentator Pat Buchanan is credited with coining the term). Within Canada, the more socialist and independent Quebec will occasionally be styled with the French equivalent, the "République Populaire du Québec".
- In Ireland, the "People's Republic of Cork" seems to have given itself the name for laughs, and also as a way of selling Che Guevara T-shirts.
- In The United States, the label tends to be affixed to college towns, especially where they act as liberal bastions in otherwise heavily conservative states. Austin, Texas is a good example of this. College towns in liberal states like California or Massachusetts must be really weird to get the label, but they frequently do. Cambridge, Massachusetts has even occasionally referred to itself as the "People's Republic of Cambridge" in official documents, and Amherst, Mass. has its own foreign policy. The state of Vermont is also sometimes called a "People's Republic" for its left leanings, especially after electing Bernie Sanders, who was Congress' only self-avowed Socialist for more than a quarter century.
- A subversion, so called "tankies", traditional communists who defend communist regimes, see most of the grandiose names as unironic (with the exception of Democratic Kampuchea and socialist Burma).